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The Desire to Belong

By September 25, 2019November 14th, 2019No Comments

Wes Moore’s recent Op-Ed in the Baltimore Sun: “I Understand Baltimore, and it Understands Me” hit home. Wes shares Bianca’s story. She is managing college, work and motherhood. She sums it all up with this guiding light of a quote: “It’s pretty overwhelming but nothing I can’t handle if I don’t feel like I am alone.”

Our kids and parents at Graham have shared this sentiment — the desire to belong — hundreds of times. We hear a version of it in every one of our roundtables for youth, parents and foster parents. We’ve heard: “I want someone who is just there for me.” “I wish people didn’t judge me without walking in my shoes.” “She never gave up on me and is the reason I’m here today.” “He gives me hope.”

It animates all that we do at Graham. We aspire to not only be an organization with effective services but an embracing and abiding community. Services end. Community does not.

This is why we have coaches who stick by our youth, parents and foster/adoptive parents for the long haul. It’s why induction to our leadership group the Bengals is life-long. It’s why we value parents as the experts in their own lives as we partner with them to help their children thrive in school and life. And, it’s why we were honored to open one of the City’s first three Family Enrichment Centers where you join as a member, if you wish, and the first question asked is not about a case but whether you’d prefer tea or coffee.

Parent Hugging Graham Family Enrichment Center Staff

Wes writes that Baltimore gets him. That’s precisely what our kids and families want. Before we help them, they want us to get them. They long to be a part of something good and are eager to create belonging for others. That’s why we just hired an alumnus to connect to other alumni and organize our amazing youth to provide peer coaching to one another.

All of us on the Graham team want to belong to something bigger than ourselves too. We want to be on a mission together, to care for one another and to be understood. We can’t make others feel that way if we don’t feel that way ourselves. Honestly, we haven’t gotten this exactly right yet. Our staff sometimes feel too alone in their stress. We’ve made a lot of progress but turnover remains high among many of our direct practice roles. But, we think it’s possible to change this. We are hiring a peer support coordinator to get peer support sessions going in all of our 11 sites using the four-part Network model. We are re-envisioning our spaces to feel more welcoming, even cozy. And, we are taking a page from the best customer service organizations by focusing the attention of our leadership team on how to create the best staff experience.

In all that we do, we strive to be create an inclusive and respectful community, providing a foundation of belonging from which all things are possible. Thanks, Wes, for sharing your story to help us understand ours a little better.

To learn more about Graham Windham and how you might join our community, visit

Jess Dannhauser
President and CEO