ICW Student Engagement Manager, Nolisha Greer
In this series, ICW team members will be sharing their work with you in each stage of our program — Earning Trust, Building Hope, Bridging Social Capital, and Sustaining Economic Mobility. This second email comes from one of our leaders in Dorchester, Nolisha. Nolisha joined ICW this year as the Student Engagement Manager.
1) What is life like for the students you work with?
Most students are coming from situations that the average person could not survive.. Taking care of an addicted parent. Some are hungry. Some are homeless. Some are abused mentally and physically. Most are grieving, the loss of friends, and family members. Some are being bullied. Some are neglected. Most are afraid. Some are too numb to feel the fear. And some are tired and are ready to die, because they believe at least they can finally rest. And when they talk about death, it’s like they are talking about a normal activity that is supposed to happen during your teenage years. They don’t say if I get killed. They say, when I get killed. Because they have no hope of making it out. They are waiting for it. They expect it. Today a student told me, it’s going to happen, I just don’t know what day. I asked him if he was scared, he said, yes! I asked him after thinking about your death, what do you think of next? He said, my mom, how she is going to feel, I don’t want her to hurt. Then he turned his music on and started bobbing his head to the music. And I fought back tears and a mountain of emotions. They have created this mask, to cover the everyday battles. And because it’s a constant battle, they’ve adapted to it and can’t even see that it’s not normal. Sometimes even if you see it, you don’t tackle it because it forces you to feel, and feeling makes you face reality and reality makes it harder to go on each and every day. So it’s no surprise when they have quick attitudes or get angry or scream and yell and want to fight. They are so used to being judged and labeled in such a negative light that many of them find it easier to succumb to what you already think of them. Sometimes, not trying is easier than the fear of being let down, after trying. All of these things are situations they face day in and day out. Living without hope is not living, it’s just surviving and surviving is a chaotic, stressful, tiring world. It drains you physically and mentally.
2) How do we build hope at ICW?
You build hope by giving them the bricks to start with. These bricks are steps to goals and goals lead to dreams and dreams lead to hope. You can’t reach for more if you don’t have more or see more. Seeing the men in this gym that has also gone through hell is the best start possible. Someone to look up to, someone to talk to. Someone who is not trying to be better than anyone. But someone that is trying to be better than the person they were yesterday. This is what the men in this gym represent. When the students attain things like birth certificates, ID’s, permits, personal training certificates, driver licenses, ect. These are bricks. Bricks are accomplishments that lead to self-esteem and self-confidence. We should definitely make a big deal when they accomplish something.. A cake, a certificate, a song. A photo, praise, acknowledgement of some sort. We should put them out there for doing it, because most of them come from a place where no one notices. Sometimes they don’t even notice it, because everything is moving so fast. My job is not just about getting documents. My job is also about listening and knowing when I need to connect them to some sort of mental health support. The pressure these students are under is like a top on a bottle of shaken soda pop and sometimes when they get the chance to sit and think, it hits them, and they start to feel the weight on their shoulders. So I ask questions. I look for signs. I watch body gestures. I also help with job applications and resumes. Some students shy away from this because they haven’t had a tax-paying job or any experience. In this case, I don’t make them feel uncomfortable. I explain that everyone has to start from somewhere. No one is born with experience. In this case, I might ask, do you have brothers and sisters that you looked after? Yes, then that’s a babysitting job. I find experience and match that with skills that are needed in the workforce. I also go over dressing appropriately, and being on time. I rehearse interview questions. My favorite is that daunting interview question that left me in tears one day, because I had no idea how to answer it and I had no self-esteem, and I took it in a negative way. “Why should I hire you?’ The bottom line is. I’m a beginner but I am also a fast learner. I know things were not easy for you and I don’t expect them to be easy for me. But I am kind, I am honest and I am ready to work. I am hoping, an experienced person like yourself, will see my potential and give me a chance to prove myself, so I can also gain the experience. At ICW, it’s about connecting and redirecting, and guiding and motivating and empowering and leading by example and experiences. Some people say, don’t look back. But I look back because I remember being there and wishing that someone would just help me get through or show me the way. For me, looking back is not a bad thing, it means I’m reaching for the stars that can’t see their own light yet.