Front-Line Heroes (Page Two)

Front-Line Heroes (Page Two)

By NYN
May 17, 2016


KIMMI HERRING

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Kimmi Herring

Director, Safe Horizon,
Brooklyn Community Program

Kimmi Herring provides comprehensive services to victims of violence and abuse. She also supports staff, represents the agency on several task forces and coalitions, and is an advisory council member for the New York State Office of Victim Services. Born and raised in Queens, Kimmi received a bachelor’s degree from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1989. Kimmi’s colleagues describe her as “the essence of righteousness and humility,” and they celebrate her ability to “turn the ordinary into extraordinary.”

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
KH: Coming from a family in which many of my relatives worked in corrections, I knew that wasn’t me because I couldn’t see myself being confined in that way. But my first job out of college gave me a taste of it, in the sense that I worked in Queens central booking interviewing defendants before their arraignments. I have to say, it was really just a job. I didn’t see or understand the value in that role. ... It wasn’t subjective. I felt like I’m not necessarily helping this person, because as long as they meet certain criteria, I check off a box. I started exploring other things. I started working with the MRDD (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) population in residential settings. I still felt like something was missing, and I couldn’t understand what. One day - it was called victim services back then - I saw an ad for an open house. They had a number of positions available and one that really struck a chord with me was working in the Families of Homicide Victims program. I felt like - wow - if I’m successful in getting the position, it will afford me an opportunity to engage with all the systems that I had developed an interest in as a child. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. Not to say that the work isn’t difficult, because it definitely brings forth its challenges, but the best reward that I have is being able to see the value in support, and understand that it’s not about what I perceive as successful but what is truly success for that client.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
KH: There’s so much victim blaming that exists, and I think that sometimes we believe that crime only happens to certain people. Just the recognition that it can happen to anyone and there’s no cookie-cutter approach as to who is a victim of crime. And there are many reasons why people perpetrate crimes. How do we think about what the needs are, rather than trying to screen people out from the resources? How do we figure out ways to meet the needs, rather than ways to restrict or determine who should receive what?


BARBARA HUGHES

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Barbara Hughes

Director,
Project Renewal’s Culinary Arts Training Program (CATP) and Comfort Foods Catering

Barbara Hughes was born in Camden, New Jersey, and graduated from West Chester University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in music. In 1992, Barbara helped to develop the Culinary Arts Training Program at Project Renewal. This award-winning program, now in its 21st year, trains low-income New Yorkers and helps them maintain employment in the food-service industry. In 1998, Barbara cofounded Comfort Foods Catering, a social enterprise that is now a full-service catering company employing more than 40 people.

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
BH: I was in the restaurant business for a long time and had worked my way through to being an executive chef. One of my friends saw a posting for a job as an instructor in a culinary program that was here at Project Renewal. On a whim, I applied for the job. I’ve always been obsessed with food. It brings up the same passions that you can have for music. It’s an art.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for a client?
BH: We’re all about trying to put people back to work. There’s always that wonderful feeling you have when people graduate from your program. But there’s also the wonderful feeling of being at a graduation and somebody shows up who’s been out there working and you don’t even know it. They’ll say, “Remember I graduated five years ago. I’m still at such-and-such and so-and-so, and I’m doing really well.” Or someone will pop up out of nowhere and you’ll find out they’re a chef somewhere or a manager at one of the kitchens. We also have a social enterprise called Comfort Foods, a full-service catering company. As of last month, we have more than 40 employees. Our mission is to create jobs for people, and we’ve done that, and we’re doing it, and we’re continuing to do it. That makes my day - any moment of the day.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
BH: Money is a huge issue - being able to live in the city and pay your bills. A lot of our folks have things that they have to pay for that they’re correcting from their past. I think that minimum wage is going to really help. I think that’s one of the most important things I see coming down the pike.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
BH: That they’re just like everybody else. They need opportunities. Unfortunately, they need opportunities that are beyond a job. They need everything to come together so that they can move forward. They need their family to be OK. They need their apartment to be as stable as their job, and that’s really, really difficult to get all of those things together. They’re just like everybody else in the middle and working class, trying to keep it together.


THOMAS KAMBER

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Thomas Kamber

Founder and Executive Director,
Older Adults Technology Services (OATS)

Tom Kamber is an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator and activist who has created new initiatives in the realms of aging, technology, affordable housing and the arts. As founder and executive director of Older Adults Technology Services, Tom has helped over 20,000 seniors get online and created the country’s first technology-themed community center for older adults.

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
TK: I’ve always just been very interested in social change and in do-gooder, make-the-world-a-better-place type of things. After I got my Ph.D., I started looking at technology as an area to do that work. An older woman in her 80s called me up one day randomly and asked if I could teach her how to use the computer, and I started volunteering with her every week for a year. We became really good friends, and she encouraged me to start a nonprofit to help seniors in technology. That was 12 years ago.

NYN: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve done for a client?
TK: I was in Bedford-Stuyvesant at the Quincy Senior Residences, where we had built a free computer lab. They were really excited, and they recruited all the residents and neighborhood seniors to take our classes there. It was for 10 weeks. It’s very arduous: People go twice a week; it’s pretty serious stuff. At the end of the class, at the graduation, we were there. There was a 93-year-old woman, and when they started announcing the graduates she began to cry. And the director of the center threw her arms around her and said, “Why are you crying?” And she said, “I’m 93 years old, and I’ve never graduated from anything in my life before.” That was really rewarding for me. I’d never thought about the sense of accomplishment that people feel from taking a computer class.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
TK: I think the biggest thing that would really help seniors in America right now is if the country really started taking the problem of ageism seriously. If there was a national campaign to help people recognize and end ageism. I think that’s the root of a lot of the problems we have today with older people. We just don’t recognize the negative stereotypes that we are carrying with us and perpetuating. If you don’t really respect people enough to see them as your equal, then it’s difficult to carry out real change to help them.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
TK: I wish people knew how awesome and fabulous it is to work with older people. Seniors are just walking around with so much possibility for contributing to their communities and helping us understand our world better and making a difference. It’s like the hidden secret of cool social projects.


RACHELLE S. KARMIN

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Rachelle S. Karmin

Director of Quality Improvement,
St. Christopher’s Inc.

Born and raised in New York City, Rachelle received her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oneonta and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Adelphi University. A longtime resident of Westchester County, Rachelle has spent more than 25 years developing and evaluating treatment programs for adolescents in residential care. “Probably the most important aspect of her impact on the positive growth of our organization has been how levelheaded she is during tough times. She is always a person that anyone can turn to for honest advice. Although she is brilliantly smart, she is extremely approachable and welcomes anyone to come to her for assistance,” said her colleague Tracy Potkay.

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
RK: As an adolescent, we all kind of go through our own experiences, and I was looking at my peers in junior high and wondering why they were doing some of the the things they were. I saw a lot of bullying. It just made me interested in understanding why people behaved the way they did.

NYN: What are the most challenging or rewarding things you’ve done for a client?
RK: I helped a young person who had no permanent family or contacts set up his own apartment once he was discharged. He kind of reached out to me and didn’t know the first thing about what he needed in a kitchen. We went shopping together and helped him buy a set of pots and pans and just kind of set up his household.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
RK: I think there need to be more supports for adolescents in the community once they’re discharged from residential care. Certainly in terms of jobs, clinical support, I think they often aren’t ready to navigate out in the community. And while they’ll reach back to the agencies, I think there needs to be a more formal structure when they’re out there, so that they have some contacts. I don’t think that’s set up as well as it could be.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
RK: That they are a lot more resilient and courageous than I think anybody who doesn’t work in the field can really understand.


DORIS
LEE

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Doris Lee

Founding principal,
Village Academy

Doris Lee built a family-oriented school from the ground up. She serves as a mentor to her staff and partners with countless community organizations to support her families. Doris has raised more than $2 million to improve her school’s facilities. She provides opportunities for her students to experience the world through annual college tours and a rich arts program. Doris is also a parent and a candidate for a doctoral degree focusing on the role of poverty in education.

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
DL: I was out of work, and I saw a sign on the train for New York City Teaching Fellows, and I said, “I’m going to be a teacher.” I hadn’t really thought about going into education because I’d had such bad experiences. … We were really poor, and they didn’t have uniforms, so we didn’t have nice clothes. The kids really made fun of me and bullied me, and the teachers weren’t that nice either, so it just wasn’t pleasant. … When I saw that sign on the train, I don’t know what happened; I heard a voice in my head, and I applied, and I got in, and I was really good at it - a natural.

NYN: What’s one of the most challenging things you’ve done for a participant?
DL: One of my students, “Ernest,” was 14 and wasn’t able to read. I met with his mom, and his mom was like, “Ms. Lee, just help him; just let him graduate; just let him get out of this school.” … I felt like that’s not the way it should be. I just felt like the kids who people think are never going to do well have experienced a lot of failure; their parents have experienced a lot of failure. ... I thought it was important to build relationships with the parents and give everyone an opportunity to be successful - find something that they’re good at and be patient. … And it works. “Ernest” is a grown man now. He has two kids. He’s my Facebook friend. I think it was seven years ago, he called me and he was like, “Ms. Lee, guess where I’m at?” I’m like, “Where are you?” He’s like, “At the library!”

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
DL: I think the mindset. And I think it starts with how we educate our teachers, and making sure that anyone who is a teacher understands that every child can be successful, and when they’re not successful, it’s not them, it’s us. And understanding different cultures, being aware that the way that you were raised is not necessarily the way that our kids were raised; it’s not necessarily the way that parents do things. And that doesn’t make them a bad parent or a bad student, it’s just that we have to be flexible to meet them where they are.


LESLIE BOBB MACK

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Leslie Bobb Mack

Health Care Director,
Adoption/ Foster Care Department,
The Children’s Village

For the last 16 years, Leslie Mack has worked at The Children’s Village with youth and families to promote healthy habits and overall well-being. She was a leading advocate in the establishment of a health care clinic within the program, bringing a better continuum of care to participating children and helping parents better understand their children’s health. Leslie created a new position for a nursing student to work on special projects and help educate families on health. She also developed a health passbook that children can use to track their exercise and nutrition. Leslie has worked tirelessly to address inequity and systemic racism.

NYN: What was your first job? When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
LBM: I’m from Philadelphia originally, and my first job was in nursing. I always wanted to work with clients on a more long-term basis so that I could build a deeper relationship.

NYN: How did you become interested in working in foster care?
LBM: I knew (the opening at The Children’s Village) would be consistent with my interests. I’ve always had a passion for helping people progress to a better place and move forward through health and life challenges.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
LBM: These youth have so much potential and so many strengths. Unfortunately, when people see that a mistake has occurred or that there’s something that they perceive as bad happening, that resonates so much more than everything that these kids have to offer. There is just so much good in every youth we work with, but there isn’t that perception. I want people to see the talents, the strengths and the potential, and not to have people write them off because of their circumstances.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
LBM: They need everyone to treat them with respect and dignity, and we work really hard to do that at Children’s Village. They need to be provided with guidance and opportunities, as well as housing when they age out. They need support as they move forward. … In many cases, parents are still able to support their children at 21 - if not financially, then at least emotionally. But many of our youth don’t have that infrastructure in place.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for a client?
LBM: Through the years, working with families that really struggle with taking care of the things that are necessary to keep their children safe. One family comes to mind that struggled to get their kids to medical appointments, and I made sure that they would get there. I’d go to their home and realize that it’s so much more than not being able to make appointments - there are so many barriers and poverty presents so many problems. It’s so hard when they don’t have resources.


EDWIDGE MICHEL

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Edwidge Michel

Group Leader,
SCO Family of Services

Edwidge Michel majored in criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and he has worked with youth in day care, day camp, teen leadership groups and, now, in the juvenile justice system. Ed is a group leader in the Close to Home program at SCO Family of Services. Close to Home is a residential program for court-involved youth.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for a client?
EM: Growing up, I came from humbling beginnings, and one thing that I’ve always known - especially as a young person growing up in New York City - appearance and how you look and what you have plays a part in young people’s development. So that is something I strive to always make sure that … young people have a certain level of appearance, and it helps with the self esteem. So I’ve gone above and bought sneakers; I’ve bought clothes.

NYN: Out of your own pocket?
EM: Yes. I’ve bought suits for graduation, haircuts. With the adjudicated youth, I’ve gone as far as staking out a young person who had AWOL’d from the program. I staked out his house for 24 hours in an agency car to bring him back to the program because I felt that he needed it and he needed to be safe.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
EM: I think we need to go back to having more meaningful after-school programs. I think our young people are pigeonholed into the same programs: either it’s going to be basketball or we’re going to do a mural. ... I coined the phrase, “the Hood Bermuda Triangle.” Our young people often know three things; it’s a triangle: corner store, liquor store and Chinese store. And they get lost in that.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
EM: I think that they know but they don’t accept it. They were young too, and they made mistakes too. … The behavior is just a symptom of an issue that a young person has and doesn’t know how to deal with. If they can find someone to actually have that conversation with them and not give up on them, they will be fine. I wasn’t the greatest young person. I wasn’t very academically inclined. But my mother always had those conversations with me that allowed me to be who I am today.

DARIO
MOHR

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Dario Mohr

In-Home Caretaker,
Job Path

Dario Mohr has worked as a teaching artist with Starlight Studio, as a residential counselor and as a Compeer counselor for youth. He also serves as secretary on the board of the at-risk youth charity Project YEAH. Dario has a bachelor’s degree in fine art and philosophy, as well as internship experience in art therapy. “He frequently works with individuals outside of traditional service hours, on nights and weekends, so that the people he supports can go to music festivals, photo shoots, poetry slams, conferences and panel discussions,” said his coworker Lillian Sobrado.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for someone you serve?
DM: I think the work I did with “Bella.” She was dealing with some emotional setbacks and things, due to experiences that happened as well as from things that were diagnosed. She was having difficulty making appointments and going to GED class. Since we started working together, she’s been very consistent with that, and she’s been really opening up, and developing a lot of other interests in creative fields. Being an artist, it’s really easy for me to help her (expand) on that. … We’ve been able to develop a lot of compatibility. … She’s been doing really well in general, and she’s opening up and becoming a happier person.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
DM: People could just be trained in appropriate ways to speak with individuals. You know, in the field I’m sure everyone’s witnessed a lot of people sometimes treating them (individuals with disabilities) like they’re children, yelling at them. Sometimes people get frustrated; they don’t always know how to handle themselves. … It’s understandable, but I think there could be a little bit more training.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
DM: They’re just like everybody else. There are just certain levels of comprehension of different things. Just because in some facet we find that someone may need a little extra help, doesn’t mean that they don’t excel in other areas. So we all need to acknowledge that we all have different levels of capabilities. In general I think the term “developmental disabilities” is a very isolating term; I prefer “alternative capabilities.” They are capable in ways that we don’t even realize.


SHYVONNE NOBOA

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Shyvonne Noboa

Program Director,
Care NYC,
Sunnyside Community Services

Shyvonne Noboa is the director of Care NYC caregiver support services at Sunnyside Community Services. Her work focuses on caregiving, older adults, and Alzheimer’s and dementia advocacy. Shyvonne received her master’s degree from New York University Silver School of Social Work, and in 2015 she was selected as a Hartford Change AGEnts Policy Institute scholar. She was previously a 2008-2010 fellow of the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education with a clinical placement at St. Vincent’s Hospital. She is from Corona, Queens. Shyvonne has helped hundreds of caregivers access culturally sensitive services such as individual and group therapy sessions, educational resources and respite care.

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
SN: I became interested in social work first because of the help that I provided to my grandparents. They are natives of Ecuador, and growing up I would always help translate, interpret. I would go with them to the doctor, do troubleshooting at the pharmacy, and I realized how challenging it is for older adults to really navigate macro systems. I was really passionate about advocacy for older adults.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for a client?
SN: One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had is when, two years ago, a woman came to me after finding out about our program in the community. She had been forced to retire to care for her husband, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. For her it was particularly devastating, because she had planned to retire and travel with him. So when she connected with me, we talked a little bit about what it was she was trying to accomplish. She wanted to reclaim her self worth and preserve the dignity of her husband. She joined my support group and connected with a network of peers. She realized she wasn’t alone. It’s been amazing - I see her everyday - to just see her smiling now. ... It was amazing for me to see her sort of blossom again.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
SN: Life doesn’t end with this diagnosis. Through this disease, you as a family now have an opportunity to cherish moments. The resilience that caregivers have - they’re really the unsung heroes. We are just here to provide them with the support that they need to continue doing this work. Because it’s work. But at the same time, for them, it’s something they do because it’s family, and you’re there for family.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
SN: Paid family leave - that’s so huge. If there was a change that I would love to see state to state, nationwide: Help them support their loved ones. I’m passionate about it. It will help support so many families caring for someone who’s ill. It’s not only for Alzheimer’s and dementia.


SADINE RICHARDSON

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Sadine Richardson

Peer Recovery Specialist,
Federation of Organizations

Sadine Carida Richardson has worked at Federation of Organizations for more than a decade. She facilitates support groups at inpatient psychiatric wards, engages clients in the community and serves as a facility representative at subcommittee meetings. Sadine is a motivational speaker who shares messages of hope and inspiration by sharing her own personal recovery story. “Sadine has saved many from the brink of despair, addiction, even suicide. Sadine changes lives simply by being herself,” said colleague Ron Gold.

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
SR: I started drinking a lot, and I didn’t know I had a mental illness. I self-medicated, ended up in a hospital and ended up in New York. I was in a shelter in Mastic, and I needed a job, and (I ended up) working as a house manager for a year or so. My sponsor’s partner wanted me to speak on how I maintained my recovery, and I spoke, and she liked what I had to say. She was the director of the Assertive Community Treatment team at the time, and when a peer specialist position came up, I applied for it, and I got it.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for a client?
SR: We had that big storm last year in February. I had a group to run at Southside Hospital. I’m sitting in the lobby, and I got the phone call: “Oh, Sadine, you don’t have to do group. Go home.” I said, “No, since I’m here already, I’ll do group.” There were only two people, and one young lady’s name was “Karen.” And I spoke and did what I usually do in groups. I told them, “If you ever need anything when you get out of the hospital, just give me a call.” And maybe a month later, her mother calls, and her mother says that for the first time in probably 10 years she saw a glimmer of hope, and it had something to do with me. Now she was back in the hospital from an overdose, and could I go up and see her and talk to her? And I did. I went up there and spoke to her. She went off to rehab for a couple of weeks; I helped her get into our program. She’s been consistent with the program. She just graduated in February. She just got hired as a companion for our program. She just celebrated a year of sobriety.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people that you serve?
SR: It’s not always about treatment. It plays a part, but there are very talented people, and they need a place where they can tap into their talent. If there was a place that they could come consistently on a regular basis to practice or even to get involved with some of their talent, they would have a purpose.


DIEGO M. ROMERO

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Diego M. Romero

Director of Community Outreach,
Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City

Diego Romero holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a certificate in business management and an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps. Diego also volunteers on the board of the Sigma Lambda Beta NY Alumni Network and The Green Batti Project, a mentoring program in Mumbai, India.

NYN: When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DR: I wanted to be an astronaut. That idea fell by the wayside when I learned that my eyesight wasn’t good enough to be in NASA, and this was before Lasik surgery was proven tried and true, so I didn’t think there was any hope.

NYN: How did you become interested in community outreach?
DR: When I was an undergrad, I did an internship with the Boys and Girls Club, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I quickly changed my major to sociology; I wanted to learn a little more about the community and what people are trying to do to help it. I really believe in the grassroots level approach to things. I think that collectively there’s a lot of talent and resources everywhere, and if we’re able to mobilize it, then we can do a lot of good things.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing that you’ve done for a client?
DR: The most challenging aspect of my position is really to get enough people to volunteer. We have a long wait list of kids who have reached out, who actively want a mentor, but we just don’t have enough volunteers. So it’s really convincing New Yorkers in general that they do have enough time and the ability to help a child who just needs a positive adult in their life.

NYN: What changes would most help the people you serve?
DR: I think that making sure that we’re invested in education is paramount. We work a lot on the psychosocial skills, the soft skills, that help to develop good character in kids. We’re trying, but we don’t have the resources to really make the impact we want to academically. We know that we’re making a difference in helping kids graduate high school, but they often struggle once they get to college. We have to make sure that every child not only has access to a mentor, but also enough educational support to set them up for success in the future.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about your clients?
DR: I wish people knew that all of the kids really, really want to be a part of our programs, and just how much fun they are. Mentoring a kid is one of the best experiences you can have in New York City.


DR. ALAN SHAPIRO

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Dr. Alan Shapiro

Senior Medical Director,
Children’s Health Fund

Alan Shapiro is senior medical director for Community Pediatric Programs, a collaboration between The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and the Children’s Health Fund. Its programs include a homeless health care program serving New York City’s family shelter system and a community health center in the South Bronx. In 2013, he cofounded Terra Firma, a medical-­legal partnership program focused on the needs of immigrant children. He has been an advocate for improving access to health care and for the rights of immigrants and other vulnerable children.

NYN: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AS: When I was very young, I wanted to be a farmer, because I grew up in Queens behind probably the last farm in Queens. I still am a bit of a farmer, but not on the scale that I was thinking. But I had a sense pretty early on that I wanted to work with children and be a pediatrician. At one point, maybe because I had braces, I thought I could be an orthodontist. But I remember thinking not long after that, “Why not just be a doctor?”

NYN: How did you become interested in children’s health in particular?
AS: I think I’ve always been focused on the vulnerable. I grew up at kind of the end of the 1970s, at the tail end of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movement. And even though I was too young to participate, I think it deeply affected me. Coming from that period of time, I was always moved by the idea of injustice and inequality. Children are often the most vulnerable, so I was particularly drawn to them.

NYN: What is one of the most challenging things that you’ve done for clients?
AS: When I finished residency, I went immediately into a homeless health care program and worked on a mobile medical unit with children living in homeless shelters and homeless street youth. I was very influenced by those experiences and was eventually able to develop a much larger homeless health care program for street youth, which I did for 24 years. Eventually I was able to develop the Terra Firma program, which has been an incredibly moving experience, working with children who have experienced unspeakable violence and lack of protection in their home countries and have not had the chance to live normal childhoods. Being a part of their process of becoming citizens and finally having the opportunity to have access to services that they need has been incredibly challenging and rewarding.

NYN: What changes would most help the population that you serve?
AS: All children, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or economic status, need to have equal opportunities. Until that happens, there will never be equal justice and there will never be the chance for some kids who are so bright to reach their full potential.


JAMES
WILKS

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James Wilks

Educational Coordinator,
Brooklyn Community Services’ Youth Stand United: Employment and Education Program

James Wilks considers himself to be a true son of Brooklyn; he grew up in East New York and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. Wilks paid his way through college by tutoring math at William H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School’s after-school program. After graduating from Baruch College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, he moved to Long Island and thought he had “achieved the American dream.” His first job was at one of the largest accounting firms in the world. After that, he held positions at Citibank and American Express but never felt like he belonged or was doing something significant. Helping young people get their GED certificates has at times proved to be difficult, stressful and emotionally draining, but Wilks writes that it has been the “most rewarding job I have had in my entire employment history. When my students graduate and go on to a decent job or to college, I become a proud parent all over again.”

NYN: How did you become interested in this field?
JW: Through early experiences tutoring. Many people suggested that I should teach.

NYN: What is the most challenging thing you’ve done for a client?
JW: I attended the funeral of a young person who had passed their GED and been accepted into college. The remorse is overwhelming.

NYN: What change do you think would most help the people you serve?
JW: More funding. There are so few resources for these kids. Some of them are homeless or living well below the poverty level. They must not be forgotten. If we help them solve their problems, we will have fewer criminals and a stronger country.

NYN: What do you wish people knew about the people you serve?
JW: These kids are someone’s son, daughter, niece or nephew. They are loved, or, if not, they should be. They didn’t ask for a hard life and should not be considered disposable. When we have low expectations for them, they have low expectations of themselves.

NYN
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