I was working as a counselor in a substance abuse program for youth between 10 and 17, kids who were experimental users and were caught in school with, or using, marijuana, for the most part. • This was during my "second career" stage of life, working with juveniles at that entry-level law violation stage. My college degree came into play, though earned far less compared with 21 years of sorting mail in a previous life. Less money but vastly more satisfaction. My counselor duties involved intake assessments, individual counseling and group teaching sessions.
Although our facility had a full-time staffer to do the urine analysis testing required of all "clients," as they were referred to, you can imagine the turnover this position elicited. It was a special calling indeed to test hundreds of urine samples weekly, including sending some out for lab testing, and keeping accurate records of that exciting task. When this male staff member was not in, or the job was not currently filled, male counselors on duty had to do the testing for male clients.
One particular day, I was the only male in the building. I had limited individual counseling sessions on my schedule and did not have a group meeting, but the day was quite busy for drug testing.
The large office I shared with two younger female counselors was a few hallways away from where the drug tests were conducted. Toward the end of the work day I was summoned for what seemed like the 50th time to test a cup of warm liquid.
Me — the college graduate!
Though I was in fairly good shape for a mid-50s dinosaur, the up and down from my desk was beginning to take its toll. I groused to my colleagues that they were fortunate that we had such a disparity of female clients, but of course this day I was blind to the number of times they were interrupted on a daily basis.
When I arrived in the testing area, one of our younger clients was waiting to fill his cup. The vast majority of our tests were done on the spot to detect marijuana and/or cocaine in one's system by dipping a test strip into the cup.
My disdain must have been blatant.
I completed the required paperwork and handed the young client his cup. Testing required the presence of staff to prevent clients from sneaking in someone else's sample. That young client picked up on my bad day as my attitude was indeed a billboard of boredom. While placing his cup on the table for testing, he uttered words I remember to this day.
As impetuous as any young client could be, he said to me, "Mr. Kenn, you really don't like your job — do ya?"
Good thing the cup was not in my hand.
Only by God's grace was I convicted enough to pause and absorb his biting yet entirely accurate assessment. Imagine this young client talking to me — the college graduate — like that!
That divine grace worked, for I did the best I could to explain to this young man my woeful day and how poor old me had to take on extra duties. I went to college you know — to test urine all day?
A few days later I wrote this young man a detailed letter light on my excuse for portraying him as the enemy but very heavy on his forthright boldness. I also spoke with his parents. My praise was sincere when I told them of their son's justifiable question. This young client, their son, was the counselor that day.
My remaining time at that program had its annoying moments. But that young man made me realize that as a counselor I was there to serve, and to serve with joy. These days I wonder often if any tidbit of advice remains with and has maybe influenced a client or two.
I sincerely hope that young client remembers that day as much as it remains with me.
Shakespeare wrote that "Good counselors lack no clients." I was blessed by that young client who counseled me — good.
Kenn Sidorewich lives in Oldsmar.