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October 13, 2017

A Sense of Belonging

Finding acceptance while singing off tune in a guitar store.

By Michael Madden, Friend

Shaun,* like so many of our youth, struggles to find acceptance and belonging for who he is. His story illustrates how we help our youth tap into their true selves and provide a space within the mentoring relationship to thrive, regardless of the outlet, even while singing off-tune at a guitar store.

Ten years into mentoring Shaun, the thing that Friends of the Children has consistently offered him is a sense of belonging.

Shaun experiences tremendous stress living in a cramped home with two siblings and three adults. Our time together is spent getting his pent-up emotions out through lifting weights and playing music.

You can recognize Shaun by his walk. He suffers from a debilitating disease that will most likely leave him paralyzed by age 21, and it is often painful for him to walk even now. He is a big guy, has an infectious attitude and a huge heart. He cares about everyone. If you are in his vicinity and he can share a smile and a hug, you are counted as one of his friends. Like a child much younger than his sixteen years, he is able to squeeze a sense of wonder and joy out of common situations.

This summer, we had a memorable experience at a place called Guitar Crazy, a warehouse near Clackamas Town Center that is filled with every kind of musical instrument. When we walked into the guitar room, Shaun slung an acoustic guitar over his shoulder and was transformed.

I taught him a couple of basic chords, which he promptly ignored. Furiously strumming the six strings, with a face that Justin Bieber might want to emulate, he spouted a slurry of heart-felt words, some of which I think I have heard on the radio and some of which were about our recent drive. There was a love song, a break-up song, a song about life and death and a song about the weather. Mostly, he sang about the ache of love. He paused to wipe away a tear. He gets choked up when he sings, and for a good reason–he has had a few romances in his young life, and all of them have ended in heartache.

On the way home, we talked about Shaun’s expectations for the final two years of high school. He wants to learn about how much an apartment costs and how he can afford his cell phone and enough food to live on. He is interested in being in his own home as soon as he turns 18. We will do that research together to make sure he has what he needs for a successful start on his own.

In the meantime, he will keep on singing, and I will count myself fortunate to be his most eager fan.

*Youth's name changed to protect their identity. Photos shown are not of the youth in the story.