BROKEN HEARTHS: Tables are turned on Paso Robles family counselor

Husband’s pink slip meant wife, who helps people coping with job loss, found it was time to heed her own advice

jlynem@thetribunenews.comSeptember 17, 2010 

TRIBUNE PHOTO BY DAVID MIDDLECAMP Buy Photo

Katy Griffin has had plenty of practice counseling families about economic uncertainty. As director of family and children’s ministries at the 1,200-member Highlands Church in Paso Robles for the past four years, Griffin, 40, fields phone calls from people who want to discuss job loss and its effect on their family life.

During the current recession, Highlands has been hit hard by the needs of families in economic crisis. Griffin answers about three calls from families every week, she said, and each Sunday she hears the same thing from youth in her children’s ministry.

“Kids will say, ‘Pray for a job for Dad,’ ” Griffin said. “They are very aware.”

This spring, Griffin’s awareness spiked after being forced to bring her expertise to her own family.

For more than three months, Katy, her husband, Rick Griffin, 12-year-old daughter Lauren and 13-year-old son Gunnar lived with uncertainty after Rick, a physical education teacher at Flamson Middle School in Paso Robles, received a pink slip layoff notice in March. It was his first in 20 years of teaching.

He found out in mid-June that he would be retained by the district, two weeks before he was set to receive his first unemployment check.

During that period, the Griffins said, they called on their faith and family unity to help them cope.

Rick went into “fight-or- flight mode,” Katy recalled.

“First, it’s shock, then you’re upset. For my husband, it was also, ‘What’s my plan of action?’ ”

Rick, 43, immediately began exploring other career options, enrolling in the police academy at Hancock College in Santa Maria.

“It makes you rethink what else you can do,” Rick said. “It’s not like I could have gone to another town and picked up there. The whole state is in the same boat.”

Despite the stress, the Griffins said they emphasized open and honest communication with the children, without involving them in too much minutiae. It’s a strategy Katy encourages other families at the church to adopt during tough times, when it can be tempting to withdraw from society.

“The children know what’s going on with Mom and Dad,” she said. “What they want to know is that you’ll be there for them, and that your love for them, and stability is not going to change.”

Gunnar explained that he wasn’t anxious. In fact, he hoped his father would become a police officer.

“I didn’t want to hear the details,” he said matter-of-factly. “I just wanted to know where he was going and how much he would earn, whether it would be more pay.”

In a soft voice, Lauren said she had the opposite feeling.

“If he became a police officer, he would be gone all the time,” she said.

When she found out her dad would get his job back and wouldn’t be pursuing a law enforcement career, she was relieved.

“It taught me patience.”

The experience has given Katy an opportunity to share her story and faith with others in her congregation.

“You can say, ‘Oh, I know what you’re going through.’ But you never know what someone is going through until you’ve experienced it yourself,” she said.

While Rick is pleased he kept the job he loves, he acknowledges that it’s still one day at a time.

“There’s no way we’re out of the woods for sure,” he said. “But it’s out of my control, and I don’t stress about it.”

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