“Courage” and “encourage” are related words stemming from the French word encoragier, from en- “to make or put in”, and coeur- which means heart. The basic premise of the word “encourage” is to instill confidence and hope (to give heart) to have courage is to be confident, brave or bold (to have heart). Both are very important in the work we do at Trinity on a daily basis.
I have never thought of myself as a particularly courageous person. As a child (and even now to a large degree), I would describe myself as shy. I have shared in previous lessons, that I was raised in an abusive household. My mother had undiagnosed mental health issues and self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. She suffered the trauma of abandonment when her mother gave her and her four siblings up for adoption and she never got over the pain and sadness of that event or the feeling that she was not worthy of her own mother’s love. Her trauma manifested itself in adulthood by lashing out at her own children; physically, emotionally and verbally and continuing the cycle of generational trauma. Tell any child they are stupid, ugly and worthless often enough and they will believe it. I know I did.
I was fortunate enough to have a second-grade teacher who saw something in the anxious, withdrawn little girl who often came to school with dirty clothes and matted hair. She saw that I was curious, imaginative and eager to please. She made sure I had access to opportunities that I could not or would not pursue on my own. She made sure I was included in activities and that I was picked for teams, which helped me gain confidence and created the foundation for friendships. She sent me to wash my hands and face and to brush my hair on days when I arrived at school in disarray. Her constant reinforcement made me more self-aware and helped me gain a sense of responsibility for myself. She encouraged me academically and called on me often in class, which pushed me to study and to always be prepared. She was tough. She did not coddle me or favor me. She did not step in to protect me from my mother’s abuse, but she taught me that my situation at home did not define who I was, and she gave me the knowledge, skills and tools to succeed. When I was promoted to third grade, she hand-picked my new teacher and had her continue to encourage my growth; academically and as a person. This happened each year, with each teacher until I finished elementary school.
By the time I entered Junior High and then High School, I was a different person. I still struggled at home, but saw school as my escape, literally and figuratively. I joined clubs and tried out for performing arts and got involved in anything that would keep me on campus before school, after school or on weekends. I had to overcome my insecurities and anxieties every time I sought an opportunity. I still heard my mother’s voice in my head, telling me I would never amount to anything, but I also heard the voices of those who had encouraged me to try. Courage was not something I felt on the inside. Rather, it was the armor I put on in order to survive the present and prepare for the future. My Senior year I was in the National honor Society, sang a solo in Madrigals, had the lead in the Spring theatre production, wrote for the school newspaper, served on student council and volunteered for a variety of organizations. I was awarded enough scholarship money to attend college and move away from home. The scholarship that meant the most to me was the smallest; $500 to pay for books, was given to a “promising” scholar who had attended Glen Avon Elementary School. When I accepted the award, it was accompanied by a note from my second-grade teacher. The note simply said, “Fortune favors the bold. Seize every opportunity to do amazing things. I am so very proud of you.”
I know this was a long story, just to convey the importance of finding the courage to take risks and seize opportunities outside of our comfort zone. I hope my story also serves as an example of how important the work we do at Trinity is in shaping the lives of children and youth who have suffered trauma. My second-grade teacher and many others after her, changed my life. The work we do can (and often does) change the lives of the children, youth and families we serve. The acknowledgement of the trauma each of our clients has experienced, coupled with encouragement and belief that they can succeed may be the catalyst that breaks the cycle of generational abuse and opens the door to a bright, courageous future.
Cher Ofstedahl, Chief Executive Officer
Cher leads our agency which serves over 200 children and families daily through residential therapeutic services, mental health programs, foster care and adoption services. Cher has been with Trinity Youth Services for over 20 years and prior to that, she worked in the music industry and as a professional actress. Among her many academic degrees and certificates, Cher holds a BA in organizational management from Ashford University and post-graduate certifications from Cornell University and Harvard Graduate School of Education. In 2019, Cher completed her master’s degree in ethical leadership from Claremont Lincoln University. She is also a member of the first graduating cohort in a National Human Services Assembly (NHSA) nonprofit executive leadership program; a collaboration with Arizona State University, Indiana University and the Lilly School of Philanthropy.