The young man, hardly more than a boy, who came to the Cunningham Children’s Home was in terrible trouble.
He had been abused by his father. He’d been given too little to eat.
All this affected his behavior. With little or no cause, he got into frequent fights—often with people much older and bigger, and he paid the price in pain. He trusted no one.
Greg Irwin, currently a student at UIS, worked as a counselor at Cunningham, a residential program for children with behavioral problems.
“It was a very tough job,” Greg says. “Kids showed up with a trash bag of possessions because that was all they had. Some had been through 40 or 50 foster homes. They had been tossed to the side until they got to Cunningham.”
This young man had more severe problems than most, but at Cunningham he began getting good grades. He got his behavior under control and eventually came to trust Greg and the other workers.
What happened next changed Greg Irwin’s life…
After his discharge, the young man went from Cunningham to live with his brother, ten years older.
“The brother and his girlfriend–who lived in the house–were doing drugs,” Greg explains. “There was fighting, people yelling at each other and throwing things.”
Responding to a tip, the cops searched the house, and when they found drugs, the young man’s family refused to vouch for him. “They basically threw him under the bus,” Greg says.
The young man ended up in jail. For all the good that occurred to the young man at Cunningham, the young man was back in trouble again.
This situation and so many others like it helped Greg realize that the lives of most children with behavior problems won’t really change until their families do.
“To help children before they end up in jail or residential care,” Greg says, “I have to first help the parents so that the entire family dynamic changes.”
As a consequence, the direction of Greg’s life change. After five years in a job he loved, Greg left Cunningham to enroll in the Human Development Counseling master’s program at UIS, specializing in Marriage and Family Counseling.
Now that he’s here at UIS….
Greg decided on UIS because Springfield is his home and because the UIS program is extremely affordable.
He now sees so many more reasons to appreciate Human Development Counseling at UIS:
- The biggest classes have 20 to 30 students, and smaller supervision classes have only 3 to 5 people. “In class, everyone gets to talk about their experiences with clients,” says Greg, “and we get so much feedback from our professors.”
- The program, longer than most, offers more in-depth clinical experience and more time for an internship.
- The professors have all been practicing clinicians at some point and can share real-world experience with students. Some continue going from class to seeing clients. This keeps their teaching fresh.
- The intimate learning environment offers another advantage. “There’s nothing I’d be afraid to talk to my professors about,” Greg says, “and during their interaction with me and other students, they model what counselors and helpers should be.”
The James J. Pancrazio Scholarship
If Greg had come to UIS earlier, one of those professors that he would have admired would have been Dr. James Pancrazio, a Founding Faculty Member of the University and the co-author of the Board of Higher Education document that established the Human Development Counseling program at UIS.
This year Greg received a scholarship created in Dr. Pancrazio’s memory, the James J. Pancrazio Scholarship.
At the 2015 Scholarship Luncheon, Greg met James’ wife, Sally Pancrazio, who with her sons and many friends, funded the Pancrazio Scholarship.
“I found out that her husband and I have a lot in common,” Greg says. “Like me, he loved sports. He also loved working with kids and families.”
Also like Greg, James also cared deeply about empathy with clients—listening and trying to understand what the person was saying, what the person was feeling, what the person meant with his or her words, and then expressing all that back to the person.
“It was very cool to learn about him,” Greg says, “an awesome experience.”
At the Luncheon, Greg told Sally Pancrazio, “I’ll do my best to honor your husband and your scholarship, and one day, maybe I’ll be on the other side, and I’ll be able to do what you are doing.”
What comes next for Greg
With his master’s degree, Greg will eventually pursue either a Psy.D. in preparation for work as a clinician, or a Ph.D. for work as a professor, but first he will spend time in the field gaining experience.
This semester, as part of his internship experience, Greg has been working once a week with Alzheimer’s clients and their caregivers and families at the Prairie Art Alliance and Human Development Counseling program.
He has also been serving as an intern at the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, which he appreciates for focusing on the family as a whole. They must think a lot of Greg as well: the Center has offered him a job in their Peoria branch after graduation, which Greg is considering.
About that young man at Cunningham…
Toward the end of our interview, I asked Greg, now that he has almost finished a master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling, what he would have done to help the young man who went back home from Cunningham to such a bad situation.
“You can’t save everyone,” Greg says. “As a helper, I have to say that first.
“But if I could do it over again, I would have liked to discuss with his family what it would be like to have him in the home and how they were going to communicate. Perhaps that would have led to safer interactions and more empathy.”
Greg acknowledges that some people have had such tough lives that they will not allow anyone in at all, but clearly he believes counseling can provide a safe environment for many people that can eventually lead to a change.
“Communication patterns and interaction styles,” Greg says. “Those are most important.”
We welcome your contribution in any size to the James J. Pancrazio Scholarship.