The Story of Arnaud: Using Our Past to Build a Better Future
Meet Arnaud, he is a well-spoken young man, a recent graduate of Hope College, and is about to start his Master’s work in the field of International Development. Currently Arnaud is a Youth Advocate at the St. Vincent Catholic Charities Children’s Home, working with children in the Comprehensive Clinical Assessment Program. These children stay in this program 30-days until the assessment is complete and a detailed care plan is created. The plan determines their next step, whether it is staying longer at the Children’s Home for more counseling and healing treatment, or moving on to an appropriate placement in a foster or family home.
Arnaud loves working with all of the children that come his way at the Children’s Home but has a special place in his heart for the younger children.
Arnaud describes his role models as Nelson Mandela for his courage and how he embraced issues of social justice. Prolific author Henri Nouwen has also had a positive impact on Arnaud. “His book Turn My Mourning into Dancing really moved me. I think about his words when I have to say good-bye to some of the children, especially the young ones who can be encouraged to dance their way to positive feelings of joy,” shared Arnaud. “It takes more to break through to the older children, who have experienced so much trauma and often have a world view that nobody cares for them.”
Arnaud is coming up on his first year anniversary as a Youth Advocate at St. Vincent Catholic Charities’ Children’s Home… but he is no stranger to STVCC. You see, Arnaud first came to our doors when he was 13 years old in 2004. He was a refugee with no knowledge of the English language. You might say that he is working in a family business. Both of Arnaud’s parents now work at STVCC in the refugee resettlement program helping other families build a new life. “I remember going with my Mom to the airport, late at night, to welcome refugees to their new home. It was exciting even then to see my mother helping and guiding these people through the process.”
Years before Arnaud, his two sisters and his parents fled from the deadly civil war in Burundi. They lived on the run for over ten years. They bounced from refugee camps to living the shadow life of illegal immigrants in different cities in Africa, searching for the next safe place, until they were finally able to make their way to the United States, and ultimately to Lansing with the help of the resettlement services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Arnaud recognizes the parallels and the differences between his experiences as a refugee and the disenfranchisement that the children in his care have experienced from their own troubles, the trauma of abuse, neglect, and unstable homes. “I feel for these children, because of their tragic lives. Yet, my life, while unsafe and scary during those early years, always included the love and support of my family and the new community that embraced us and made a place for me to grow and learn. For this reason these children deserve my best efforts.”
“All of the staff, workers, volunteers, and even the children are creating a community of care at St. Vincent Catholic Charities’ Children’s Home. I want them all to learn that we can use our past to build a better future.”