Pongo Helps Young Man Cope With Painful Past

Pongo Helps Young Man Cope With Painful Past

When Rodney came to Mercy Home, he was overwhelmed with sadness and depression. Trying to get through to him was like talking to an empty shell of a person. He preferred to be by himself, always listening to music with headphones as a way to shut out the world.  

At first, 16-year-old Rodney did everything he could to avoid social interaction. He hated Mercy Home’s group activities and communal environment so much that he often lashed out at our coworkers and his peers in an effort to get in trouble, so he wouldn’t have to participate.  

Rodney’s acting out wasn’t because he was bad kid — far from it. He just lacked healthy ways to cope with his emotions and the severity of past trauma. 

 Last summer, Rodney and his parents were enjoying a family reunion in a Chicago park.  

“My grandpa was grilling, like he always does. My dad was DJing and getting everyone to do these old school dances,” Rodney said. “The reunion was always my favorite part of summer because I got to see all these relatives and cousins I don’t get to see very often.” 

Across the park, a group of young men were hanging out when a fight broke out. Things escalated quickly. When gunshots rang out, people at the reunion dropped to the ground and others scattered.  

“When the shooting stopped, we all got up, except my dad. I ran over to him, saw the blood,” said Rodney. “I don’t remember much after that. It was all a blur.”

When the shooting stopped, we all got up, except my dad. I ran over to him, saw the blood.

In just a blink of an eye, a stray bullet shattered Rodney’s world. In the months after his dad’s funeral, Rodney shut down almost completely. He couldn’t eat and grew thin. He refused to go to school, dropped out, and just laid around the house all day listening to his dad’s favorite songs. 

Rodney’s mother could see her son needed help. She spoke to family members and asked around for advice. Her friend had a cousin who once lived at Mercy Home and spoke highly about the help she received. So, Rodney’s mother gave us a call and not long after, her son moved in. 

After a few weeks of Rodney rejecting group therapy and social activities, Mercy Home’s working facility dog, Pongo, paid him a visit. Pongo, our gentle Golden Retriever Lab, provides unconditional love and support to our boys and girls. He helps break the ice with kids who are having a tough time adjusting to life at Mercy Home. 

After meeting with Pongo once a week, before long, Rodney started opening up and sharing his feelings. 

“Being around Pongo just makes me feel calm. He’s always so happy to see me, and that makes me happy,” said Rodney. “Pongo makes me feel comfortable. When he’s around, I don’t mind talking about painful things.” 

Being around Pongo just makes me feel calm. He’s always so happy to see me, and that makes me happy.

As Rodney’s relationship with Pongo grew, he started taking part in more activities with his peers. He even started making friends with other guys around the Home. More importantly, he shared his story in group therapy and listened while others shared their stories, too. 

“Group therapy has done a lot for me. It made me realize that other people have been through the same things I’ve been through,” Rodney said.  

Rodney still has a lot of healing to do, but the progress he’s made is remarkable, considering the trauma he’s been through. This fall he’s excited for school. With the help of his advocates, he’s set some ambitious goals. First and foremost: getting on the honor roll for the first time in his life. 

 “I feel like I’m in a very positive place right now. I’m making friends and I feel healthy,” Rodney said. “For the first time since my dad’s death, I feel like I’m actually living my life.”

Please note: Because we care deeply about protecting our children’s privacy, the names and certain identifying details in this story have been changed.

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