Toxic conditions of California’s worst wildfire are a reminder of the effects of trauma on the youth we care for.

This has been a haunting week in the Bay Area.

As death tolls mount in the worst wildfire in California history, we have been reminded of its effects with every breath.

The range of this fire has been immense, and a reminder that you don’t have to be at the epicenter of a tragedy to feel its effects.

Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to make this sad, toxic smog go away. We just have to wait for time and the right weather conditions to gradually clear the air.

And unfortunately there is nothing we can do to bring back the homes and livelihoods of our neighbors to the north.

In many ways this is a poignant metaphor for the cloud that most of our youth have hanging over their lives.

While every young person in our program has a unique story, they all carry painful memories from being separated from or losing their parents, from being moved through many foster placements or relatives’ homes.

Our youth have lost many of the people and places that gave them a sense of belonging. Even if this was only for a short amount of time, for children every change is momentous and feels like forever.

While many of our Braid youth have ended up in places of relative stability, at a distance from the original events that were so painful, they continue to be haunted by painful memories, by a fear of loss, by questions about where they belong.

These memories and fears can hang over their lives for years to come, affecting the way they see the world, preventing them from being able to relax and breathe fully.

The first few youth we matched with Braid teams were no longer in foster care. At first, we felt like this was falling short of our vision of being “first responders” to youth in their darkest moments. We mistakenly thought these youth didn’t need teams as much.

What we have learned in the years since is that this is often where the hardest work begins.

These are the youth who are still living in a haze, trying to make sense of their past and form a vision of what the future might hold for them.

These are the youth whose souls are still often made sick and vulnerable by the residue of the trauma they have lived through.

These are the youth who just need time and better circumstances before they will be able to see clearly and be themselves again.

These are the youth who need us to put on our masks and walk into that cloud of unknowing with them.

This is what members of our teams do every week. We are grateful for their patience and presence and perseverance.

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