The Gift of Connection
Author: Bonnie Allen, MS, IMH-E®, Infant Mental Health Mentor- Policy, has worked with SPCC since 1998 and has worked as a National Trainer for the Parents as Teachers (PAT) National Center, Bonnie has been providing PAT Foundational, PAT Foundational II, and Partnering with Teen Parents training since 2009. In addition to her PAT work, Bonnie currently is a trainer and consultant as part of SPCC’s Mary Ellen Institute. Bonnie has long recognized the importance of culturally sensitive, trauma-informed and relationship-based work and since receiving her first training in Infant Mental Health (IMH), has been committed to incorporating the principles and practices of IMH into the work of SPCC’s TAPSS program and ‘spreading the word’ about this critical and foundational way of being and seeing when working with families with young children. Join Bonnie as she reflects upon her recent trip to Guam and realizes that connection is the thread that weaves us all together.
It is all about relationships. And, more specifically, connection. Through more than 30 years of home visitation, family support, parenting, living, traveling, facilitating training and staff supervision, I have had the honor to deeply learn and experience the meaning in those words. And I found this awareness, this learning, only transpired through sometimes painful personal reflection and willingness to risk showing my inner self to others; risk showing my vulnerability; risk exposing my imperfect humanness; risk being real. And once I took that risk in very safe relationships, I tried it out with others. Little by little it became clear that what once seemed counterintuitive turned out to be the most direct route to strength, growth and connection.
It has been since this awareness that amazing experiences and opportunities for personal growth and connection have been offered to me repeatedly. It’s as if I am being rewarded, as if I am exactly where I need to be, the stars are aligned and all is well with my world. The most recent demonstration of this was the chance to travel to Guam, a true paradise, to provide a training called Partnering with Teen Parents to home visitors, supervisors and parent educators from across the island of Guam.
What would I find there, deep in the South Pacific? It began with an offer of an hours-long hour tour of the southern part of Guam (where the native Chamorro reside) by the training host and her young daughter. Helene and Elsa were gracious in sharing their time, their love of Guam and the culture and history of the Chamorro people while showing me the beauty of the island. Social reciprocity, harmony, and respect were discussed, and stories were told of the importance of these values, and I was assured I would experience these values in action when meeting the training participants the following day.
For two days, I had the honor of working with 17 Guamanian (mostly Chamorro) individuals, learning and sharing together. There was a strong feeling of respect and a deep desire to learn while finding relevance and applicability within the Chamorro culture. I experienced their value of social reciprocity as I was gifted with many native foods and bags of souvenirs for coming from so far away and being willing to share knowledge and resources. I found the people of Guam to be among the kindest and friendliest people, and I am humbled by their compassion, depth and strength in the face of a history of war and significant adversity.
What meaning did I make of it all? That, yes, even halfway across the world it’s all about relationships. And once again, I have been gifted with the experience of deep connection. As I looked out over my hotel balcony on my final morning on Guam, a full rainbow presented itself. A beautiful end to a beautiful experience.