Last September, Susan Craig officially retired from her role as housemother at Dalla-Vincenza. But when she left, she knew she`d be back.
"You leave the unit to retire and never come back again? No. It doesn’t work like that," she said.
Susan knew she wanted to remain a part of the youth`s lives, but equally stressed the importance of not upsetting their routine, of staying out of the way and ‘not creating extra work for anyone.’
So, five weeks after her official retirement, Susan began her new Sunday night routine – coming into the house to read bedtime stories to any youth who wanted to hear.
"I get about 95 per cent participation which is really, really good. The kids are quite excited to see me when I come in on Sunday nights. They’re engaged and they can actually listen for almost an hour to a bedtime story, " Susan said.
When she started, she was reading simple books like the Berenstain Bears. Quickly, however, she realized the youth could handle more advanced material and they transitioned to shorter chapter books. Susan chooses the books based on what the youth are currently working on in programming with their caseworker.
"The first two books were all about friendships and we finished those. From there we’ve gone into a cultural aspect of it. So, I’m now reading cultural books where kids reconnect with their Aboriginal heritage, " she said.
But that`s not all. When Susan was the housemother, she smudged with the youth almost daily. Now, she does it before she starts reading on Sunday nights.
"It’s for them and for me because I still get to see them on a regular basis, and still have that connection," she explained.
Only being in the house once per week, Susan knows that there will be youth who age out or discharge, and new youth coming in that she won`t get to know on as deep of a level as many of Dalla`s current youth. Still, she`s found a way around that as well.
"When I retired in September there was a new youth that did come into the house so I’d actually gone in and had a breakfast with them – I was invited to come back for a breakfast on a Friday that they were out of school - and I made sure that I spent a good half hour just with this one kid so that we could make that connection. "
She may do the same with other new arrivals, or she may simply connect through the Sunday night stories.
"They`ll tell me what they need, " she said confidently.
"Having Susan come in is a perfect way to wind up the weekend activities. Her connection to the home, staff, and clients have remained intact after her retirement and it is always nice to hear how story night goes," said Dalla unit manager Mike Farrow. "Having a resource like this really emphasizes how we can all work to create a family atmosphere in the homes at Ranch Ehrlo. I am so glad that Susan continues to spend her time with us and look forward too many more stories."
For Susan, being a housemother was more than just a job.
"You can ask any housemother, the connection they have with their kids (is what drives them). When you’re the mother of a unit, it’s about connection and relationships. "
"I love going back on Sundays. I get lots of hugs from the kids and it really feeds my soul. We do share a deep connection between the kids and me in that house, so that’s why there was no just walking away and retiring quietly."