Jeremiah: The Power of Positive Youth Development
"I tell [kids] to always believe in yourself. Keep going, keep pushing past blocks in the road. Keep moving forward. You build up kids, you don’t break them down. That’s how you reach them. "
How has Waterbury Youth Services helped you grow? When I first enrolled in Waterbury Youth Services' after school program, Linking Academics to Life, I was a freshman in high school. I was very shy. I wasn’t comfortable, confident or social at all. Now, you can’t stop me from talking.
The staff made all the difference. They were always kind and positive. Helpful when I needed it most. I started making new friends. I became a lot more comfortable speaking with kids and adults I didn’t know. I wanted them to value my opinion so I valued theirs, even if it was very different from mine. When I interacted with other people, it opened up my mind.
I also wanted to do more. Making new friends inspired me and gave me the confidence to reach out at school and in the community. I joined Waterbury NAACP Youth Council and Make ‘Em Believe. We did Open mic nights to get kids more comfortable speaking out. We helped feed the homeless at GWIM. We participated in the Hunger Walk.
When I was a freshman, a lot of things were going on that I felt I couldn’t control. But this program helped me become more confident, have more self esteem. I realized that I was in charge of my life.
Now that you've graduated high school, what's next for you? When I think about my career, I know I want to work with kids. I worked as a Summer Camp counselor and 4-H Mentor while at WYS. I showed them what they could do and what they could be. I told them to always believe in yourself. Keep going, keep pushing past blocks in the road. Keep moving forward. You build up kids, you don’t break them down. That’s how you reach them. With me, they knew they were seen. That they mattered. You could say my mentoring style is a direct reflection of how I was mentored at Waterbury Youth Services.
"When I was a freshman, a lot of things were going on that I felt I couldn’t control. But this program helped me become more confident, have more self esteem. I realized that I was in charge of my life."
"Relationships turn around lives. Every child who has gone through physical abuse or violent trauma needs a program like CHAP. "
Program: Community Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), which helps young people who are "aging-out" of DCF foster care to fully develop independent living skills. Case Manager: Tangerine Rhinehart.
What was life like for you before you entered the CHAP program? Brutal. My father is a violent alcoholic and has been my entire life. When I was six years old, he got into a terrible fight with my mother. I decided that night that I was going to protect my mother and sisters from him. So I did.
I became his punching bag so they wouldn't get hurt. I hated going home. Nights I would stay up while he was drunk just to make sure he didn't start any trouble with my family. I was miserable. Angry all the time. I hated the world.
Eventually, I lost hope and didn't care how badly he beat me. I became numb to it all until one day we got into a really bad fight. My face was severely bruised. I was tired of covering it up with make up so I went to high school the next day and my teachers reported the incident. This caused DCF to get involved and lead me to WYS' CHAP program.
How has the CHAP program helped you? Relationships turn around lives. Tangerine did that for me. Sometimes children go through so much pain. We don't realize it until that one adult comes into your life and turns things around. When Tange asked me how she could help, I was like, "What's in it for you?"
But she was patient. She constantly showed up. Even when I told her I didn't need her. Tange taught me what I should and shouldn't be doing, but in a nurturing way. Whether I had questions about school, work, the apartment, life...she was always there to help.
"I became [my father's] punching bag so they wouldn't get hurt. I hated going home. Nights I would stay up while he was drunk just to make sure he didn't start any trouble with my family. "
I was 17 when I met her but I acted like a little child. I could only think, "Abuse, Abuse, Abuse." She helped me heal. Helped me get healthy. Helped me grow up. Tangerine showed me another world that I had no idea existed. One with hope. Happiness. A future. I really believe that every child who has gone through violent trauma needs a program like CHAP. Someone who makes that kid feel like no matter what, I'm always going to be here. That makes all the difference.
What's the future look like for you? I currently work and I also go to college. I'm majoring in Psychology. I know my life is in my own hands. I can navigate my own future. I want to take on the world and see how many things I can do and experience.
"I know that what I do isn't just a job. I am making a difference. I love the fact that I have an impact on someone's life." -Zari
Program: Career Builders in Health, a Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA)-backed employment program that jump starts careers in health care for young people. Program facilitator: Tracy Radden.
Why did you apply for this program? My mom was a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), then a nurse. I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I had recently graduated from Waterbury Adult Education but couldn't get a job. No one would even consider me because I had no work experience. So I applied to this program and, fortunately, got accepted.
How has this program helped you? Life was very stressful before I started this program. I was living with my mom. Living off her paycheck. When I got this opportunity, I worked hard to finish it, get CNA certified. I did it. And I was able to provide for my family for the very first time.
Do you have a job? Absolutely. I'm a CNA at Quality Home Care. I started my internship there in December 2018 through Waterbury Youth Services. They hired me full time last May. In October, I got employee of the month.
I know that what I do isn't just a job. I am making a difference. I love the fact that I have an impact on someone's life. I have mostly Alzheimer's and dementia clients. I have a client in Watertown who is full, total care. I have to get her dressed, feed her. Everything. One day her son came home, and she said to him: "Turn out like Zari." I honestly didn't know that she was even still "with us" because she doesn't talk, she doesn't move. To find out that she knows my name, enjoys the care I give and the first words out of her mouth in six months were about me, well, that just felt amazing.
What's next for you? Someday I may be a traveling nurse or start my own home health care company. But for now I'm happy where I'm at. I didn't know how much I would really love this type of work until I started doing it. You guys helped me get my start in everything. And I'm very grateful for it.