Saturday, March 19, 2011

Safe Youth Project

When Alejandro started coming to the Safe Youth Project (SYP) after-school program as a 4th grader he was a trouble-maker. He spoke out of turn, bullied the other children, and refused to cooperate despite repeated warnings. He was so obstreperous that some of the other children stopped coming to the program. Very troubled by his behavior, our staff met with Alejandro's parents to express their concern and discuss how he acted at home with his parents and siblings. It turns out that the parents were very worried too, but they couldn't afford to seek help or treatment from a professional. Staff had to tell Alejandro's parents that he couldn't come to the program anymore because he was driving the other children away, but they did continue to help the family. They were able to get them connected with another organization, where Alejandro was tested for behavioral problems then got regular counseling to help him improve. Alejandro is now in 6th grade, and has returned to SYP a changed person-he listens to staff, treats his peers respectfully, and contributes to group activities.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Volunteers Help at AYM

Our Assisting Young Mothers program (AYM) provides counseling and support for pregnant and parenting young women ages 16-24 through residential and community-based programs. Young women receive counseling, shelter, life skills training, parenting education, and job readiness training to help them become nurturing parents and successful members of the community. AYM strives to promote self-sufficiency and nurturing parenting, and to prevent child abuse.

Angela Valerino, the program coordinator for AYM has been working with some special volunteers this week. Angela is happy to report; “This week at AYM we have a volunteer group from Saginaw Valley State University working on organizing and cleaning at the townhouses. The group is made up of 12 college students who have chosen to spend their spring break helping others. They all worked very hard today and were tired by the end of the day; but they are looking forward to continuing tomorrow and we are all optimistic about what will be accomplished this week!”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Job Requires Many Meetings

As Executive Director of Alternative House I have a very rewarding job. I get to meet people who care about the children and youth of our community. I speak often with our elected officials and those who work for our government. I serve on the Boards of several organizations and we meet to discuss ways to better serve those who need help. While very rewarding, it also means a lot of meetings! About a year ago, I decided to make time to go to some really special meetings….the weekly meetings of the people who work in Alternative House programs. I can’t make these meetings every week, but I do stop in at least once a month. It makes me wish I could do it more often. It’s very inspiring to listen to the dedicated people who help the children and youth in our programs and it’s inspiring to hear the stories of the young people themselves.

While at the Emergency Shelter for Teenagers meeting, I met a girl whose mother decided to enter a substance abuse treatment program. That would normally be a good thing, but this girl was sent from another state, where she and her mother lived, to Northern Virginia to live with her aunt and uncle. The girl didn’t know about any of this before she got here. She thought she was just coming for a week’s visit. She’s missing her boyfriend and her aunt and uncle have a different parenting style than her Mom. One thing led to another and she started having trouble in school and cutting herself. She told a school counselor she was heading out on her own and the counselor asked her to call us. As I sat in the meeting I could see how much the counselors at the shelter care about this girl and the help they provide is really amazing. They are working with the girl, her aunt and uncle and her mother to keep her safe.

I went to the staff meeting for the Homeless Youth Initiative and heard representatives from our schools heap praise on our therapist and case manager for going far beyond what’s expected to help homeless high school students who are on their own. I learned about how our therapist helped a young man leave the hospital where he was receiving treatment for severe depression and successfully move into a host home and resume attending high school. This wasn’t an easy thing for him to do and it took a lot of work on everyone’s part to make it successful. Once again, though, it was easy to see how much everyone cares.

Our Outreach counselors touch the lives of thousands of kids every year. When I go to their staff meeting I hear about young people from our Culmore Teen Center getting help with homework, putting together resumes and doing college applications. I find out how much the children in the Annandale Safe Youth Project enjoyed their first field trip to an area park after being indoors all winter. The children in the Culmore Safe Youth Project are excitedly anticipating going to see Gnomeo and Juliet thanks to the donation of movie tickets. Field trips and movies are things these children wouldn’t be able to do if we weren’t there. Our Outreach counselors also help get school supplies in the fall, warm winter coats for kids who don’t have any and meals when there is a lack of food at home. They are always there to listen and encourage when going to school seems hard and dropping out and joining a gang would be the easy thing to do.

Finally, at our Assisting Young Mothers staff meeting I saw how our counselors are working with each young mother to help her plan for a brighter future. One young woman wants to join the military and is taking courses at community college to get the educational experience she will need. Another has just found a full-time job that will pay her $12 an hour. While that isn’t a huge salary, it’s a lot more than the minimum wage employment she had previously and she is on cloud nine. Another young woman has just packed her overnight bag to go to the hospital and developed a new delivery plan. She expects her baby in 8 weeks and is looking forward to welcoming her new son. There are so many new beginnings in the program. Women moving forward towards self-sufficiency, children taking their first steps and our counselors there to help and encourage.

While almost all of the meetings I go to are important and productive, the best meetings of the month are when I get to visit our programs and learn about the amazing things that our children and youth are doing and how our staff helps make it happen.

Judith Dittman