Boys Hope Girls Hope is excited to highlight team members whose time at Boys Hope Girls Hope has had a major impact on scholars, collegians, alumni, and colleagues. This month, we’re chatting with Ryan Hanewinkel, a Residential Counselor at our St. Louis affiliate for more than 10 years.
Patience Randle: Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today! I’d love to start out by asking you to tell me a little bit about your personal story.
Ryan Hanewinkel: I started working with teenagers right out of high school at summer camps and things like that. And also the CYC, Catholic Youth Council, camps. As I progressed in my own life of faith, I ended up working in the ministry for seven or eight years as a youth minister. I really just fell in love with serving young people. The longer I did that though, the more confined I felt in that setting. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to spend time with the young people, and the relational development was really slow. So, I transferred from working in a church setting to working at the state of Missouri’s Division of Youth Services. I started working in some of their juvenile facilities for teenagers that had committed adult crimes.
I did that for about three years and it was really violent. Most of my time was spent trying to stop fights. So that’s when I began looking for other opportunities.
Patience: So, what made you choose to be a residential counselor at Boys Hope Girls Hope?
Ryan: I came across Boys Hope Girls Hope and ended up talking to Brian Hipp (then the St. Louis Executive Director and now the Vice President of Mission Effectiveness for the Network) about it, and ended up coming to Boys Hope Girls Hope of St. Louis at a time when the organization was in a lot of transition. I really loved the mission and the vision.
That’s when I told my wife, “I really like this. It probably won’t be long term, but until we know the next step I think this will be a great fit.” I learned that the power of this program is that you’re put in a position to relationally connect with the same scholars over long periods of time. There really is no other setting that I know of in terms of residential opportunities and youth development where you get the same scholars for sometimes six to eight years. That’s definitely something that factored into choosing the position.
When I started, it was because I didn’t want to continue working where I was, but I knew that I wanted something in the same field. It was the longevity of the students being in the program that kept me around. The reason I’ve stayed for ten years is because I’ve developed relationships with the young people that I work with and I think that’s what makes all the difference in the world with these young people.
Patience: What else makes your role as a Residential Counselor meaningful to you?
"To me it's always been about the mission. I believe in the providential nature of life and I think that if your life is providentially driven rather than financially driven or driven by the need for some kind of position of power or whatever else it is that drives you, if you’re doing what God wants you to do, then your life is going to have meaning and value to it that it wouldn't otherwise have."
I’ve always believed that this place (Boys Hope Girls Hope) is the place that I’m supposed to spend my time. We all have a limited amount of time, and I think this is the best use of mine. For the last ten years, that’s what has kept me here. Anytime a conflict has arisen or challenges have come up that made me rethink what I was doing, I just went to the Lord in prayer and said “Lord, what would you have me do?” and try to love the scholars the the best I can.
Patience: What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned during your time at Boys Hope Girls Hope?
Ryan: I think probably that the most profitable moments that I’ve had with the scholars is when there’s the most chaos or the largest challenges that we’re facing. Hands down the scholars who I have connected with the most have hated me from day one when they got here, and I’ve always thought I would much rather have a young person not like me and not respect me at the beginning, only to earn that respect later on. Because once you earn their respect, you never lose it.
For some, if they like you immediately and they just think you’re super cool and then they realize “wait a minute I don’t like this person at all,” it’s a lot harder to get respect back. So, I think it’s taking those opportunities that feel like failures and that are kind of the most challenging moments—and for them relationally with the staff—turning those moments into a deeper relational connection.
Patience: What advice would you give to other residential counselors across the Network to stay motivated? Any tips on self-care, especially during the pandemic?
Ryan: If you’re only a residential counselor just because you need the job as a stepping-stone to something else, you’re not going to make it. First, if you don’t believe that you’re called to be here, if it’s not a providential thing, you’re not going to last. Second of all, I would say if you’re coming into this position and you have your own personal agenda, it’s not going to work either.
“So, I think residential counselors need to be sold on the vision and the mission of supporting our young people. It’s a pretty simple philosophical base. We come here to love them, to support them, and to help them develop life and academic skills. We relationally connect with them in a way that we continue to love them even during times when they may appear indifferent.”
Patience: Thinking about the scholars and some of your experiences at Boys Hope Girls Hope of St. Louis, are there any favorite memories that come to mind with the scholars during your time there?
Ryan: There are so many. There are certain scholars who I’ll talk to and have relationships with for the rest of my life. They’ve graduated now and are either in college or out of college now, and I can look back on the ways that we started. Again, most of it was really rocky and they couldn’t stand me. But as we learned from each other, just to be able for them to come to me as adults and have a connection that deepens and matures is really fulfilling to me.
Patience: So you mentioned that you keep in touch with some of the scholars. Has anyone ever come back to you and just said thank you for your time or any other memories that come to mind with that?
Ryan: Oh yeah, a lot of the young people that are here in St. Louis still come around our affiliate. They come back and they’ll say, “When I was living at the house I couldn’t stand you, and you made us do all of this stuff that we didn’t like, but It really helped me and continues to help me in the long run.”
And I remember this one scholar said that he didn’t really understand the point of me being there when I first started because he thought that I wasn’t going to stick around. He asked me if I was going to be there when he graduated. I wasn’t supposed to say this, but I said, “Yeah I’ll be here, just wait and see.” The fact that I was still here after all those years made a difference in his life.
Patience: As you know, we have the word hope in our name, Boys Hope Girls Hope. What does the word hope mean to you specifically?
Ryan: I believe that life is the cycle of the gospel. For me, that’s the root of reality, the Gospel—the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In working for an organization founded with Jesuit values, it inspires me spiritually. I think that for me, when you’re living in union with God and seeking to live the best you can, you go through cycles all the time. In these cycles, you can feel that you’re in this place where it feels like nothing is ever going to get better. It makes me think about the Dementors in Harry Potter, that feeling of “I’m never going to feel joy again”, or “it’s just never going to change.”
“Hope means that no matter what place you're in, that there's always a resurrection around the corner. You can’t always anticipate when and how, but there’s always hope. As long as you don’t constantly live in a way where you’re self-sabotaging your own existence through really bad decisions. There's always something that's going to occur that is going to reset your life, and the belief in a better future is going to return to you.”
Patience Randle is the Communications and Media Associate at Boys Hope Girls Hope Network Headquarters.