Chesapeake Career Center Update: The Kids are Alright

In the previous issue of Connections, we interviewed a group of Dental Tech students from the Chesapeake Career Center. They were slated to be guest speakers at our breakfast in March, but COVID 19 got in the way. We thought we would check in with them again for this issue to get their perspective and see how they are doing.

These kids astound me, but it’s not why you think… It’s not because they are being reckless and telling me how they’re hanging out with their friends every night. It’s not because they’re saying they’re young and therefore not at risk (like so many assume of their age group.) And it’s not because they’re throwing temper tantrums about being inside. Nope, I’m not aghast or amazed about the Gen Z’ers and their disregard for my personal safety.  Actually, I’m wishing more people I knew were just like them.  The “kids,” (aka “young adults,” aka “a hope for the future,”) I’m referencing are talking to me via Google Meet during one of their scheduled class sessions for the Chesapeake Career and Technical Center. They are a group of dental assistant students that I worked with in-person just a few short months ago. And they were supposed to be the keynote speakers for our TWC Awareness breakfast in March. My how things change…

When I was in their classroom last, we were having a great discussion about their future plans and how on earth they were going to afford them. One of the things I liked most about this group of students was how candid they were with me from the start- even when it meant poor Kay Smith practically pulling her hair out in class because I inadvertently bombarded her with too much information about credit scores.  Or how Jaylen Clemons was willing to go the rounds over the probability of affording a luxury apartment in Las Vegas by himself because he did not want to have to get a roommate. They spoke truth and they appreciated that I tried to give it back to them. And in my multiple visits with this group of students, I found myself more and more confident that they had everything it took to be successful. I found myself not worried for them because I could already tell that they were thinking of the right questions to ask adults like myself, and we all know that’s the real secret to success. But that was months ago. That was in a pre-COVID-19 world. 

Now, I’m checking back with my kids. They didn’t get to shine at our breakfast because it was canceled. They didn’t get to take their portfolios out to get jobs because their portfolios are currently locked in the school. And forget the worries they had about credit scores—these kids are worried more about when they will ever get to leave their houses feeling safe again. 

Yes, they are taking advantage of not having school to sleep in. Isaiah Reid takes care of the dog with a walk around 9am, then goes back to bed until about 1pm.  Rachel Lamotta is more of an afternoon-riser, but she gets everything done that she needs during her night owl hours. Kay is also about a 1-2pm riser. So yes, if you’ve heard that these young people are sleeping in late, you have heard right. But remember, at their age, their bodies need the most sleep possible because of all the ways they’re changing. One local school district even recently looked at changing its start times because of the need for sleep and the teenage body. So, if you’re going to fault them for sleeping in, I guess that’s fair. But here’s what else I learned about their day-to-day living amidst this pandemic.  

Jaylen’s biggest stressors right now are his grades and when the SAT and ACT will figure out how they’re offering testing. But he gets up at 8am, plays some X box, does his school work, then hangs at home under threat of, “you go out, you’re not coming back in,” from his very protective (and responsible,) mother. Kay is reading a lot, also stressing about her chemistry homework, and admits to feeling a little socially distant in all this because she really only keeps in touch with the friends she would normally see in real life. Rachel is staying on top of her schoolwork from home as well, and she’s actually decided to delete all social media simply because she finds it’s weighing her down. And Adia Huard is keeping busy at work. As the only one of the group with a job, she busies herself at a tire store and does “a lot more disinfecting these days.” For the most part, the group isn’t being pressured to get jobs right now because their parents want them safe at home, and they prefer it that way as well. It’s not laziness, it’s observation.  Maybe because they have a background in dental work and therefore have a fundamental understanding of what “sanitary” looks like, but most of them express to me how aghast they are when they see what people are passing off as “precautions” and they don’t want to put themselves at risk in the midst of it all.  

I don’t know if I could say that this particular group of students should be considered representative of all their generation—that’s probably a bit of a stretch.  But I do know that after an hour online with them I was really moved.  When I spent time in their classes before I worried that their concerns over financial burdens were really valid, and I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty in the part that my generation and those before had played in creating such financial messes for them to navigate through. Now they’ve got something even bigger to contend with and they are counting on all of us to try to make it “all right” for them. 

These are complicated issues for everyone right now and there are no easy answers. But on the rare days when I glimpse at my own social media, what I see most is blame. A lot of blame is floating around and a lot of complaint. Blame and complaint without a lot of solutions, or empathy. And it’s funny because in our professional work courses that we deliver, two of things we try to emphasize to our students are that in a working environment you should never complain about a situation without first trying to see it from all sides and points of view, and then thinking of how something could be solved and offering solutions.  And if we expect that in a professional atmosphere, shouldn’t it be good enough for a personal one as well?  Most of the classes we teach at TWC fall under the category of “life-skills” and that title rings truer now than ever. These kids work hard to embrace the life skills we teach, and we have to walk our talk in real life too.  These youth don’t have a lot of agency right now in how they can influence their own lives—cars, money, jobs, homes—all of the trappings of adulthood are just a little bit out of reach for them, so they have to put their trust in us.   And we cannot fail them. 

And, if you read this whole article and you still are content to dismiss them as “reckless, lazy and sleeping all day” that’s fine; but just remember that they’re going to be fixing your teeth one day, and a dentist laden with debt and fear is not the dentist I would want rooting around in my mouth! 

—Harvest Bellante, Program Director

Chesapeake Career Center

I’ve never felt quite as guilty leaving a school as I did one day last Fall heading out from Chesapeake Career Center. I had been working with a group of afternoon (they do a morning and afternoon sessions) dental assistant students and it’s fair to say that our discussion in class had taken a turn. What had begun as a fairly standard question in our Life Work Portfolio course—What would you like your life to look like at 30 years old?—had suddenly been cause for panic. 

This group was a fun group from the start, and they had pretty big ambitions. Jaylen Clemons stood out for his desire to live in a lofty penthouse style apartment in Las Vegas while he raked in the money doing cosmetic dentistry, and because of his interesting plan I pulled up realtor.com on their smartboard. “All right guys,” I said, “let’s see if this is going to work out for his budget knowing what he’s expecting to make each month vs. how pricey this style of living is.” It’s a fun thing to do in classes, if I feel like they are with me, because so many of them don’t really have a good grasp on real-world prices for their dream homes or locations. 

In Jaylen’s case, it worked out. As a cosmetic dentist he is going to make a pretty decent income and if he wants that loft apartment, so be it. But of course, he knew it wasn’t going to be the high life for the many years he’d be putting himself through school—that was the trade-off. Our scenario sparked other interest and one student that didn’t want the glamorous life in Las Vegas asked how much it would cost to live in her desired area. We looked. It wasn’t too bad, but it incited many, many questions.

Kay Smith was the first to ask, “what’s that whole credit rating thing?” and how it could affect their chances of housing.  So, I tried to explain “good credit” and the need to establish it as an adult while simultaneously advising strongly against being taken in by all the tempting “free” cards they will suddenly find themselves pre-approved for when they get into college and/or start working.  As we talked, their eyes were getting wider and wider and Kay wasn’t going to be satisfied with my assurances that she’d be OK so long as she kept asking these types of questions. She was still worried, and questions were still coming. 

“What happens if you marry someone that has bad credit, can that affect your credit score?”

“What happens if you get money from a family member—where should it go?” 

“How do you sign up for a bank account?” (When I asked how many of them had accounts currently, it was only 2 out of the 5.) 

And perhaps most important, “What happens if we ever get sidetracked and miss a payment on something?”

These were big questions and they deserved big, detailed answers. They deserved an entire year course spent on nothing else but the answers and the strategies, because from my own perspective (after having been lured by a free mascot teddy bear into a credit card sign-up my first day in college and going down a hard financial spiral) I knew what trouble they could be in for.  I knew that rather than the option to go home on early release as a senior, if I could have had the opportunity to learn more about “this stuff” in high school, I would have been thrilled to. And so, I tried to provide all that I could in the blocks that we had but I remember looking at Kay’s face as I left that day and just wishing I could do more.

Luckily for me, Chesapeake Career Center has embarked on a huge joint effort with us this school year and is ensuring that almost every one of their students will have a portfolio course under their belts before they graduate. As such, I felt pretty comfortable asking if I could go back this second semester and re-visit my favorite dental class to check in on them and see if they feel any less stressed.

I sat down with Kay, Jaylen, Rachel, Isaiah Reid, and Jermaya Mitchell the other day and I asked how they were holding up. Jermaya is working at Hwy. 55 as a server. She’s trying to be budget-focused and her parents expect her to pay for her gas, phone, and even some bills since she has income. Isaiah and Rachel are feeling “okay.” They want to stay closer to home and go to ODU to study and plan to continue with dental at least in some respect.  Jaylen hasn’t changed his tune from the thrill of Vegas. While Kay and Jermaya are a little more on the fence of where they’ll go, though Kay feels a pull to the Midwest where she grew up.

The great thing about this program is that all of these students will graduate high school as an entry-level dental assistant. They have to work for 3500 hours in that position before they can take their national board exam, but after that, they could become dental hygienists. The exceptional part about all this is that even when they are “just” working on their hours and going to school, they will still be in an entry level position that ranges from $17-$25 per hour, something I try to point out to them as being rather unusual for anybody their age.

Of course, with this money they’ll be earning will come responsibility and that is still a scary variable. I continue to set their minds at ease and encourage them above all else to start both a checking and savings account where they can keep an emergency fund for all those things we can’t predict. I try to talk them through the concept of credit once again and suggest that auto-draft payments are life savers if you’re worried about keeping track of too much. I mention that roommates can help a lot with the cost of living, but I was shot down pretty quick on that—this group isn’t too keen on strangers in their space. And while I certainly know that attitude can change pretty quickly when faced with rent, I’m okay with simply planting the seed for now.  I find that I’m not at all worried about these particular students because I know the technical skills they have, and I know that they’re asking me the right questions—that counts for a lot in my book. But as our time fades, I ask them anyway, “okay, what could we as adults do to help? What do we need to do more of for you?”

Kay pipes up immediately, “stop pressuring us and let us make our own mistakes.” Everyone nods in agreement.  Which, given the multitude of fears she and her classmates expressed before, I thought was a little strange since they really didn’t seem to want to be making any mistakes if they could help it and wouldn’t that require guidance and intervention? Everything they said they wanted to know about, well, someone has to explain it, but I suppose they are looking to simply not feel so pressured by it.

But, on the other hand, can I blame them for wanting the best of both worlds from all of us? They want us to be adults that trust this generation enough to let them do their own thing, but somehow just know when it’s become a little too tough and they need guidance. I think that’s what everyone actually wants deep down and while it seems like an easy concept, I certainly understand that it is not. And to give her credit, I think Kay understands that too, she, like everyone else, just needs to be allowed their frustrations from time to time. And then there’s the simplest most straightforward response I could possibly hope for, “What could adults do for us?” Jaylen asks. “Simple, give us money.” We all laugh, and I tell him how much I wish I could, after all, we’ve done a great job running up his costs of living and education all this time. We bid our farewells until I can hopefully check in once more before the year ends. 

—Harvest Bellante, Program Director

Keeping Youth on Track for Success

College isn’t the only answer, but young people need a chance to break the cycle of minimum wage poverty. That means one of three things needs to happen. A youth needs to leave high school with a marketable skill, a youth needs to get post-secondary skill training, or a youth needs to get post-secondary education. 

There are three primary barriers to graduation from high school, They include:

1. Poor academic preparation for learning skills and content knowledge.

  • No or poor pre-school prep.
  • Reading, writing amd math skills are below grade level.
  • Poor test scores or grades in critical content areas.

2. Psychological, behavioral, or learning challenges.

  • depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADD/AHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, attachment disorder, substance abuse, etc.

3. External factors or life events creating truancy issues or interrupting education

Court involvement or incarceration, family instability, transience or homelessness, sexual orientation or gender identity, abuse, bullying, hunger, pregnancy, etc.

There are two primary barriers to matriculation from high school to post-secondary training or education, They include:

4. Lack of financial resources

  • or at least the perception that those resources are available.

5. Family or cultural bias or inexperience in the matriculation process

  • Lack of parental or community support for education.
  • No effective hand-off from high school to college or training.

But there are five foundational factors which limit a youth’s horizons and possibilities. They include:

6. A hope and optimism deficit

  • Youth need to believe they have choices, that there is a path to personal success, happiness, and independence, and that that path is open to them.

7. Insufficient experience of or exposure to career options

  • Youth need effective career counseling, job modeling, and individual alignment (is a particular career path a good fit based on a youth’s gifts, passions, and aspirations).

8. No real-world financial understanding and aspirational alignment

  • Youth need to understand how much difference post-secondary education or skills training can make in terms of immediate earnings as well as life-long earning potential and how that figure translates into lifestyle.

9. Lack of a clear and detailed career transition plan and support network

  •  Where do I want to go?
  •  What are the action steps that will get me there?
  •  Who can I turn to for help?

10. Lack of basic life-work success skills

  •  Personal presentation and commuication skills.
  •  Resilience: the capacity to bounce back from adversity and manage changes effectively.
  • A strong work ethic.

These last five foundational factors are the areas the Smart Transitions Life-Work Portfolio Course and related publications are designed to impact. Without hope and optimism, exposure to possible career options, some real-world financial understanding, a clear and detailed career transition plan and support network and some basic life-work succes skills, our at-risk youth will be locked into a nearly unbreakable cycle of minimum wage poverty. 

Addison Villanueva

Addison Villanueva had a way of standing out in her internship class. 20+ students from Portsmouth and Norfolk were already setting an example this past summer just by being present and accounted for—all day, and all week in early June. These youth had applied for, and been accepted to, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council’s Summer Youth Internship Program that would enable them to gain paid work experience and training over the summer. No matter which way you sliced it, these students were all incredibly motivated individuals. Which is why it’s saying so much that Addison (Addie,) made such an impression during my lessons.

A student in Norfolk Public Schools, Addie showed up for our Smart Transitions Life Work Portfolio Course ready to work and learn. One thing that stood out about Addison is how dedicated she was to the idea of a future career that would be meaningful and beneficial to society—she needed to know that her chosen path would somehow better the world. Not only that, although she was already working one part-time job at a local restaurant, and she was about to embark on a summer internship; she still had time to ask me if I had any connections at local companies like Trader Joe’s that were known for being good to employees and giving back to the community. In our classes, we work to ensure that what a young person chooses as a career path aligns with the things they love to do and the gifts and skills they have to offer. We also help them clarify their values—what they care about in the world. We always ask students what impact they want to have in the world, but I’m not used to seeing students so actively seeking to make their mark.

Since wrapping up the summer program in June, I have had the pleasure of hearing from Addie a few times and it never surprises me when I hear one great news piece upon another. A group called “The Apprentice of Peace Youth Organization” has reached out to me on behalf of Addie because even though they are based in Denver, she’s been working to get them out here and they are looking for mentors. Something tells me that this young lady is doing much more on her phone than just endlessly gazing at Instagram—she’s in search of something better and it’s going to be good for all of us. Just the other day she emailed to tell me that she had hosted her own workshop on Awareness, and again, I’m no longer surprised, just excited to hear what’s next for this incredible young woman.

—Harvest Bellante, Program Director

Giancarlo Balarezo

One of my favorite activities we teach in the Life Work Portfolio Course is our “Personal Brand” exercise.  The basic idea is that you brainstorm many of the qualities you feel an employer would want to hire. It doesn’t do anyone any good to try to be all of them at once, or even worse, pretend to be something you’re not.  The goal is, take some time to really figure out what your true core employability qualities are, and how you can showcase them consistently at the workplace and at home.

When we start the brainstorming, most students have a lot of qualities to put on the board. But there is almost always one quality missing that I end up “giving” to them and that word, or quality, is resourceful.  The students don’t always know what it means and ask me to explain. More often than not I tell them to imagine losing their phones—how would they get through the day? Using resources.  After sitting for an hour with portfolio class alum Giancarlo Balarezo, I think I need him to come to all my classes from now on and explain about the beauty of utilizing your resources to their fullest potential.

Giancarlo didn’t always feel like the spokesperson for resourceful youth. In fact, as a typical high school student studying at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, he pretty much felt that there was only one option ahead of him- he wanted to work with computers, so, that meant a hefty degree and lots of schooling. But as we discover so many times, how can a youth be expected to concentrate on their college plan when their home life is unstable and there is constant personal friction to wade through? Thus, at a breaking point with his father, Giancarlo did what made the most sense in his mind—he dropped out of high school at age 17 and went out west to Arizona where his older brother had escaped to a few years prior. He summed up Arizona fairly well—“it was hot and I was loading boxes at UPS all day, not fun.” I had to laugh, as a southwest native myself, he nailed the description of the scenery.   At this point in his story, it already sounded to me like he had to endure much more than any teenager should have to, but then life dealt him another devastating blow and took his brother away from him.

When Giancarlo’s brother died suddenly, he couldn’t afford to stay in Arizona alone, so he came back to the family life he had so desperately needed to leave. It hadn’t gotten any better, especially now that the family was also in mourning. But, faced with the idea of another son slipping away from him, Giancarlo’s father made one phone call that Giancarlo would later attribute to changing the entire course of his life—he called the Adult Learning Center in Virginia Beach and took Giancarlo down to take the GED placement test. Never a bad student, Giancarlo did well in his test and was immediately handpicked to speak to Lisa Belcher, the coordinator for the Foundations Transitions Program, funded by Workforce Development.  As she explained to him, the program would not only help him with continued study for his GED, but also give him the ability to participate in paid work experience, go on college tours, work with mentors, gain career assessment skills, and create and develop a professional portfolio. That sounded good to Giancarlo; that sounded like resources.

            In the first two months of the program he had passed two portions of the GED test. He went to class every day from 8am-1pm and was also working locally at Flex Gym. However, when he had enough time under his belt, he was offered a paid work experience incentive at an array of local businesses.  What stood out right away to him was a position at the VB Recreation Centers as “recreation ops.” He took on the role and began work that would primarily include setting up and taking down various rooms at the Williams Farm rec center. It was then that he had a realization—he preferred more human interaction then his interest in computers might have suggested. He found himself asking to help out with the Forever Young bus run that allowed him to make connections with the seniors that came to the center for workouts. He liked the type of work more. Because of this desire, he decided to appeal to his supervisors and ask for a different role.  They agreed, and he ended up working the front desk and greeting people every day when they came in.

As he told me about this revelation I was thinking once again about a key point we try to make during our classes with students—learn who you are and listen to yourself.  So often in the teens and 20’s we switch from job to job, place to place, and it’s all worthwhile if along the way we’re assessing ourselves and trying to really figure out what environments are making us happy and keeping us satisfied. But it doesn’t always happen.  It is always gratifying that a student actually practices what we preach. In this case, Giancarlo realized he was happier with human interaction, and so, he made efforts to get more of it on the job. It sounds simple, but I have so much respect for him because I know it’s not that easy for many youth.

Flash forward over a year and Giancarlo now works full-time at the Bow Creek recreation center front desk. He continues to build relationships with the patrons there and he enjoys the work.  He has built a stronger and healthier rapport with his family, and his father in particular.  He also has his eye on some more resources available to him. He’s researched the city’s tuition reimbursement program and is excited about enrolling in some computer courses at TCC in the fall so that he can earn certificates that will put him on a path to doing IT work. Giancarlo has interviewed for all of the promotions he’s gotten with a not-so-secret weapon in hand—his Smart Transitions Life-Work Portfolio.  It remains in his car, he tells me, at all times. He has it filled to the brim now with the many certificates he’s earned, as well as examples of the job skills he’s honed at the rec center. He even says that when he helps interview upcoming youth employment candidates, he finds himself gauging how prepared they seem by checking whether they have a portfolio, or even a start of a portfolio, with them.

I can’t help but smile thinking of how far he’s come.  This 20-year-old young man in front of me gives pearls of wisdom that I expect from someone twice his age. He managed to grasp the importance of networks and support far sooner than other youth his age that I’ve met. He talks of preparedness in the face of anything, and he continues to stress to me the importance of resources. And I as I finish my chat with Giancarlo I am thinking over in my head and counting all of the resources he managed to utilize. Lisa Belcher, Workforce Development, the options he had at the Recreation Centers, the Smart Transitions portfolio training from Together We Can Foundation, and now the city’s tuition reimbursement program.

This young man grabbed on to everything that he could because he realized that there was more than one path to the future he wanted. Perhaps his father realized it to when he made the phone call that changed everything. Yet another example of support coming through when we least expect it, but need it the most.

Harvest Bellante, Program Director

Looking Good: A Foster Care Portrait Event

Blaise and Katlyn Burns and Family (along with Stand Up For Kids Executive Director, Mark Stevens) were back to have family portraits made at Together We Can Foundation’s “Looking Good” Portrait Event. Many families are making this an annual event for their holiday portraits and some of our foster youth use this opportunity to have Senior pictures done. This is the 3rd year for this annual event. It is an opportunity for foster care youth, foster families, and families in need to have professional portraits created for the holidays.

Area portrait photographers, Jon and Julie Limtiaco, Ramone Permel, Jen Vetter, and Adelaide Rooney donated their time, energy, expertise, and passion to make great memories for youth and families.

Jon Limtiaco coaching 2 girls on posing.

Adelaide Rooney helping shoot a foster family.

Ramone Permel working that portrait magic.

Jen Vetter making smiles happen.

Thanks to all our volunteers and to the Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, Project HOPE, Stand Up For Kids, and Connect With A Wish for making this another successful event.

Jeremiah Stanley and Jason Grant

Jeramiah Stanley ponders for a moment about adult life…and then says quite determinedly, “I’m worried, I think it’s going to slap me in the face.”  The adults in the room chuckle but not him. Meanwhile, Jason Grant sits next to him nodding right along.

For high schoolers, these two actually have a pretty good assessment of what becoming an adult can feel like and I have to give them a lot of credit. It’s a bit a refreshing not to hear a young person shrug and assume that “3 Bugattis” in the garage at age 30 is going to be the norm they should plan for.  And really, it’s these two boys’ grasp on reality and honesty that has me responding- “Well, Jay (Jeramiah,) you’re probably right. But for my money, after working with the both of you for months, I think you’re going to be just fine and in fact, I’d be pretty happy if you guys end up running the world one day.”

That brings a smile to Jason’s face- Jeramiah is still hesitant. “I just worry that none of the adults or parents can tell you what to do or will want to help you anymore when you’re older,” he says.  Again, chuckles in the room from both ladies sitting by their sides.  Jeramiah and Jason both brought their grandmothers-the two women responsible for getting the boys into my class in the first place.  I laugh this time as well and look to the grandmothers, “Let you in on a secret, guys?  Adults loveto help and tell you what to do…no matter how old you get.  These ladies will welcome it.”  At this I finally get a smile from Jeramiah.

Both of these young men really do give me hope- it’s not just lip service while their families watch.  Jeramiah is a junior at Green Run High School and he thinks he’d like to get into computer programming in the future.  He’s got a math class looming over him that feels unsurmountable and yet, he really wants to just pass so he can take it a little easy during senior year and “chill out.” Once the chilling is done however, he worries he’ll still feel a little overwhelmed.  Right now, college just feels like more studying and more stressing. The back and forth in his mind between wanting to take it easy and wanting to pass classes and do well is often the pendulum swing high schoolers are used to.  It can easily feel like going back and forth between two extremes. But as we talk, I see in him much more drive than he’d like to let on. It’s not even a necessity for his field but he’d really like to earn an advanced diploma just to show that he could achieve it.  He figures, why not?

Jason is in 10thgrade at Bayside.  And even though we all do it to every younger generation, I still think it’s amusing to watch Jeramiah somberly tell Jason what he’s in for once he reaches junior year.  Yet I’m as confident about Jason’s future as I was Jeramiah’s.  Jason was at a yard sale when his grandmother ran into Jeramiah’s and before they knew it, both gents got signed up for the portfolio class. Jason describes being nervous at first, but after the first class he got on board completely.  He tells me that he found himself looking forward to class each day and even told fellow classmates what they could learn if they did some career research on bls.gov.  For his part, he took what I said to heart.  He looked further into becoming a U.S. Marshal and at this writing, was still very much committed to the plan.  He also managed to secure a job on weekends just by being friendly and having someone tell him how strong he looked- now he helps a moving company with occasional bookings.

What I like so much about my time spent with both of these young men is how honest and real they are. During our many class discussions, mock interviews, and even just casual conversation, neither one acts like they have it all “figured out.”  In fact, when I suggest that they will be adults at 18 they both scoff a bit and reply that they don’t imagine they’re going to feel like adults. Jason is proud to be a bit goofy and hates the idea of having to act like an adult.  Again, age and experience cause us “old” gals in the room to chuckle.  I assure him that he can still be goofy, and he absolutely will not magically figure it all out when the age of 18 drops. That said, I’m also careful to point out that both men will need to be aware that once they turn 18, any dumb “kid” decisions could cost them dearly in the legal system.  They both nod and suddenly I feel like we’re back to them feeling slapped in the face by adulthood.

Ultimately, I know that with our work there are only so many assurances we can give.  We know the stats and we know how easily one little sidestep can derail you good intentions. But I come back to the terrified young men who sit politely with their grandmothers and give them props for taking them to my class-  Jason tells me that he’s been trying to take my advice about networking and he’s already working to circle back to old teachers to keep fresh in their mind;   while Jeramiah mentions again how happy he is to have his portfolio just in case he has a “brain fart” in an interview and now can be assured to have tangible back-up in hand just in case.

I look at them both being so worried about adulthood and yet open and willing to use the resources they’re being presented to better prepare for it and I firmly believe that that becomes the magic mix of success. If we can instill just enough good, clean, healthy fear into the mind of youth that they actually yearn to learn more and possess the tools overcome the challenges they worry about; and, if we then present ourselves as resources and let them know that at no point will we just assume they should have it all in focus because after all, do we? Well then maybe, just maybe will we deserve the praise and the heartfelt thanks they give us.

Harvest Bellante, Program Director