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The Magic of Tennyson

By: Tia Hunter

In the earlier days of my career, I crossed paths with a young boy with significant trauma. He was eight years old and could neither read nor write, without an ounce of desire to learn. The burden he carried was far too heavy to envision a future where he would need – let alone want – to read.

At this facility, he was the only kiddo who had a volunteer who would come to visit him every week and work with horses. On one of these visits, this volunteer had convinced this kiddo that if he could learn to read the horse will lay his head on his shoulder to look at pictures and listen to the story. This kid was inspired! He came back to our classroom with a newfound drive to better his life.  This kid worked very hard, day and night. Within just a couple of hours he was writing his name. Within days he was forming words. Within just a few weeks this kiddo was headed out for equine therapy with his stack of books to read.

In this transformation I learned one of the most important lessons of my career: the magic is rarely found in a structured learning environment, but most often in the “in between” times with people who simply show up.

I originally meant to work at Tennyson Center for a short time. When I applied 13 years ago, my body and mind felt weary from the work of childhood trauma, but I needed to find something in my new city. That’s when Tennyson took me in – arms wide open. Quickly finding my stride in their Residential program as a Youth Treatment Counselor, I put my experience and skill to work in a variety of settings and age groups throughout campus. The flexibility of working at a facility with kids of all ages refreshed me, and I easily fell in love with the work.

I’m often met with “the face” when sharing about my work at Tennyson – “You do that?!”  Those who are outside child welfare often assume that work at Tennyson is solely filled with heartbreaking moments.

And it’s true: our hearts often weep over the trauma that we see day in and day out. We’re tempted to give up when the darkness seems to overpower the light. The kids’ trauma often has a glaring spotlight attached, daring us to only notice despair and nothing else. And yet, none of these things define our work.

Sympathy for kids is not what keeps both staff and volunteers coming back. We come back to Tennyson Center time and again because there is magic in the air.

It’s this magic that builds family supports with others whose hearts beat just as deeply as my own. It’s this magic that allows volunteers the chance to see the immense power that these kids hold inside their small bodies and big souls. And, as much as the adults who work with them impact these kid’s lives, the kids impact our lives tenfold.

There is light to be found when kids find moments in the “in between” to laugh and smile, or even to rage with everything they have. And when we, as adults in their lives, take the time to truly sit and immerse ourselves in this magic, we learn that we are the lucky ones.

As my time witnessing the “Tennyson magic” ends, I am left with such a sense of gratitude for the people I met along the way.

Those who gave of themselves so generously.

Those who drove thousands of miles to be here.

Those gave up snow days and break weeks at school to spend time with the kids.

Those who give the change they collected because that’s all they could afford, while others leave their life savings to ensure that kids will have the support they need to thrive.

I am humbled to work with staff who offer their hearts up to absorb the pain that these kids are trying to exhume from their bodies so that their steps will be lighter and easier. Those who find joy in the way a kid raises their hand for the first time to answer in class, or looks up to make eye contact for the first time. Volunteers who come to Tennyson feeling lost or broken, and leave knowing that the world is a beautiful place when they see the magic.

Supporting Tennyson means more than just giving of time or of money. It’s a declaration that you, too, believe in magic.

With all my heart,



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