A N D Y M A L E K O F F
My start in social work began when I joined my college’s “action network” as an undergraduate student and became a “big brother” to two school-age boys in the urban community that enveloped my college. After graduation I joined the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps, known as VISTA – Volunteers in Service to America. My job was to renovate an old church into a community center and develop programs for young Mexican-Americans living in that low-income neighborhood. Fast forward. I attended graduate school a few years later and became an “official” social worker. In my second year student-internship in 1977 I was placed at a children’s mental health agency, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. I’ve been there ever since and now serve as executive director.
I chose this chandelier because …
… well, let me tell you a story:
The chandelier hangs in the entrance of our headquarters, a mansion. Our board of directors chose houses for our offices as they are more inviting than sterile office buildings. This house was built in 1905 and was believed to be a wedding gift for one of the descendants of a prominent family. It changed hands a few times and one of the owners named the building Whispered Wishes. Her daughter Ruth Moore wrote a poem that celebrated the fulfillment of her mother’s dream. The opening lines were:
Whispered wishes from a wistful heart
So much work to do; where to start?
We purchased the property in 1983 and I moved in one year later.
One day, after my teenage boys’ group meeting, one of the group members (I’ll call him Chris) ran down the hall from my office, which was then located on the second floor. Chris reached out over the railing and grasped the chain link that held a chandelier in place. He ever so gently started to shake the chandelier which rested above the waiting area just inside the entrance to the building.
I became anxious imagining the glittering crystal chandelier crashing to the ground and shattering into hundreds of pieces. I remained calm. As I approached 15-year-old Chris, who was about six feet tall and had a history of explosive and destructive behavior, I remarked on how long his arms were and what a great reach he had.
My impulse was to grab his arm and pull him away. However, I realized that if he held tight and resisted that that could have the effect of ripping the chain that held the chandelier from ceiling where it was anchored. I continued to reflect on how much he had grown and what a tremendous reach he had. Then, I directed his gaze to the children and parents sitting in the waiting room below. Smirking, he finally loosened his grip and released his hold on the chain that held the chandelier.
This episode illustrates how, as a social worker who specialized in working with difficult teens, I would be tested over the years; and that there are often no prescriptions, no evidence-based manual or cookbook solutions to the work at hand. What this story and the glittering light of the chandelier affirm for me are the importance of relationship and value of being mindful.