From the Field: Appreciative Inquiry
By: Steve Alexander, Addison County Parent Child Center
On a recent spring morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with Caitlin, as she took a break from her responsibilities as a participant in the Addison County Parent Child Center’s (ACPCC) “Learning Together Program (LTP).” Caitlin, her 10-month-old son Lucian, and her partner Hector, live at the ACPCC’s Elm Street House, our Transitional Living Program (TLP) for Addison County Youth.
I had just a few interactions with Caitlin since she arrived at the Center. Most of these were in our childcare, or during our Outdoor Group, which I co-lead. Caitlin has a quiet, observing presence, and I believed she had some insights and stories to share. Once asked to participate in a conversation about life as a young parent in our transitional living program, she quickly accepted. Using the practice of “Appreciative Inquiry” as a guide, I asked Caitlin a number of questions to stir our discussion. The following is a glimpse of what she shared:
When asked about a “peak experience” in her personal life, a time when she felt most alive and engaged, Caitlin answered immediately: “Being pregnant and giving birth to Lucian!” In Caitlin’s words, “it made me feel more confident and comfortable with myself. Some of the social anxieties that I had before went away.”
Caitlin also spoke about leaving home in upstate New York to attend Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes, VT, where she pushed herself to open up more and make new friends. At Job Corps, she had another kind of “peak experience.” Caitlin, who loves to write, entered a Job Corps poetry contest and won the competition! After winning, she said that she felt as though she “had a voice,” and that she had important words and thoughts to share with others.
Another appreciative inquiry question was, “what do you value most about yourself - as a human, a friend, a partner, a parent?” Caitlin’s response was firm and clear: “I am really open to things. I am there for people. When problems or issues come up, I am there to listen or give advice.” In addition, as a parent she has begun to value “being free spirited and trying new things.”
The next question I asked was, “what do you value about the organization you work in? What has your organization contributed to your life?” Instead of organization, we inserted the Parent/Child Center’s TLP that Caitlin is a part of. She described how her strengths are sometimes utilized in the shared spaces and during the shared activities of the Elm Street transitional living program. She explained how attentive listening and being open-minded to the perspectives of others are useful life skills that she has had to develop and use. Caitlin stated, “living with other people at Elm Street has helped my communication and my social anxiety. I need to interact with other parents and their children daily.”
These themes also arose when Caitlin talked about her classes at the ACPCC’s Learning Together Program: “All the classes in the LTP have made me put myself out there more, to ask more questions, and have made me have more of a voice. I’m not just a girl in the back of the room anymore. I am putting myself out there, and it feels really good!”
As we neared the end of our conversation, I asked Caitlin to share some of her personal and professional wishes for her life. Without hesitation, Caitlin said, “I like helping people and I’m really in to forensics. I have a wish to go to college and study forensics. I want to find the bad guys! Another wish would be to have enough money to travel, and see everything. I want to explore the world!”
Clearly, growing up in a small town in upstate New York has not dampened her spirit to adventure! I am sure this spirit, and the willingness to grow as an individual, parent, and partner, will continue to influence those fortunate enough to cross Caitlin’s path!