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Why We Do: Introducing Dawn Riff

Dawn Riff is The Genesis Project's Director of Operations. For 29 years, she's loved and cared for our boys. She is a wealth of knowledge and her heart is bigger than any challenge. 

Why do you choose to work at The Genesis Project?

When I heard about The Genesis Project’s boys all those years ago, I felt like I could help them.  I had already worked with children with special needs through coaching T-ball and Special Olympics and I really enjoyed it. 

Working with boys with behavioral issues is challenging. Why do you keep coming back?

When I first started working here, I would get home from work and just cry because, at age 21, I asked myself, who am I?, and what do I know that is going to help these boys?  They had been through more trauma than I’d ever heard about before. I kept coming back because I quickly learned that these boys needed consistency, structure, and nurturing.  And although that isn’t simple to achieve, I felt like I could provide that for them. I was raised Catholic which to me means I was raised in a very structured, predictable environment. I was also the youngest of eight children so being around a lot of people or noise was something I was used to growing up. I played sports all my life, so being around a bunch of rough-and-tumble boys was just fine with me. I don’t mind getting dirty and looking for bugs with them.  So, in a way, I felt like this job was made for me, very early on in my employment here.

What do you hope to gain personally by working with our boys?

I have always and will continue to desire to gain more knowledge and skills to help me in this line of work.  There is always something new to learn. I’m a caregiver naturally, and acts of service is my love language.  Serving our boys fills my soul with joy. They remind me that we are children of God, and we all need to be loved. Seeing the trauma they experienced and then seeing the difference we make in their lives here is something I’ll always come back for. 

What have you learned that you didn’t know before working at The Genesis Project?

Everything. I have worked here longer than I’ve been a parent.  So, when I had my daughter, Taylor, my perspective on how to raise her changed. I used what I learned at Genesis in my home life. I’ve learned how important relationship building and trust are. They are so vital— not only in this field— but also in life. We have to be able to trust that we are safe before we can try to change our own maladaptive behaviors. We all have them. So creating a supportive, safe, positive environment for others is the most effective way to nurture positive change that we want to see in others. Our abilities to communicate, listen and connect meaning to behavior are all tools I’ve learned in this business. I’ve learned that I can’t control anything but myself so the most important thing I can do is manage myself and stay calm, even during the most stressful and challenging times. I could literally write a book about everything I’ve learned at Genesis.  Mostly about love—that we all need give it, and we all need to receive it. 

When you describe The Genesis Project to people you know, what is the one thing you want them to know about our organization and our clients?

I want them to know that people can grow and learn from their trauma.  We’ve all had some sort of trauma in our life, it’s how we choose to cope with it.  Teaching everyone, especially the troubled youth of Oklahoma, tools and skills to more appropriately and positively cope with their trauma will change their lives.  And that’s what we do, we change lives at Genesis.