Gaby’s counseling sessions started with this challenge from her client, T*: “I don’t know why they want me to go to counseling. It’s not like you’re going to change me.”
T, a member of a gang, landed in jail and then DuPage County’s Intensive Probation program due to convictions for criminal damage to property and aggravated assault. The Intensive Probation office refers youth to Wheaton Youth Outreach (WYO) to provide services to youth and their families to keep the youth out of the juvenile justice system in the future. The Intensive Probation office introduced T to Gaby Del Toro, a WYO Youth & Family Counselor, last summer.
The son of immigrants from Mexico, T got involved with the gang at the age of 9. T’s parents worked countless hours at several low-paying jobs to provide for their family, but this left them unable to provide adequate supervision for him as he was growing up. The gang provided relationships that his hard-working parents could not provide.
Living in a low-income neighborhood, T’s opportunities were limited. Classmates bringing weapons to school made safety a luxury and self-protection a necessity. “His environment created a person that doesn’t care about his future, his goals, or his dreams,” says Gaby. “His focus has been surviving and defending himself.”
Youth in Crisis Program
T and his family are not unique to the staff at WYO working in the Youth in Crisis Program. In addition to taking referrals from the Intensive Probation Department, the program provides services to seven local police departments and over 20 local schools. The WYO Crisis Team is on 24-hour call to assist with youth who have run away from home or are in a severe family conflict. Last year, the WYO Crisis Team served over 75 youth and families from central and western DuPage County.
When Gaby first started meeting with T, the disregard for his own future went as deep as a complete apathy toward whether he lived or died, stayed out of jail or spent time in jail. “Leaving the gang was the goal from the beginning,” she says. “I would finish every session by telling him, ‘I’m never giving up on you.’”
The Difference a Job Makes
A hard worker like his parents, T said he would focus all his energy on doing his job well if he ever found one. Gaby starting working with T to assist him in finding a job. After filling out applications, respectfully talking with employers, and dressing his best, T didn’t hear anything for weeks. When both Gaby and T had almost lost hope, T got a job! A restaurant manager near his house offered him a cleaning and maintenance job with the promise of training him to be a cook.
Gaby has been able to see changes in T’s attitude as a result of counseling. “In the beginning of his probationary period, T was breaking the conditions of his house arrest. He was angry and restless,” says Gaby. “Since he’s been able to express himself in more constructive ways in his counseling sessions, he has increased respect for the conditions of his probation.”
Though these changes are still far from Gaby’s goal of ending T’s gang involvement, they are an invaluable part of developing the relationship with T that allows her to share her faith in God. When she told T the WYO staff was praying for him, T asked why strangers would care about him. As a result of this conversation, T was able to hear that he is worthy of prayer and love because he’s a child of God.
While T is correct that Gaby doesn’t have the power to totally change him, his relationship with her is exposing him to the God that is uniquely able to do so.