Why Read These Stories?

33988520 - vintage inscription made by old typewriter, our storyWhy read these stories we bring you about the youth we serve and the challenges they face? It’s just a “blog” entry, after all. At New Pathways, we prefer the term Journal to blog but, hey, either way, it’s just one of a billion items vying for your attention on the Internet. Why take the time? You probably think you already know all there is to know about “these kids” anyway.

28062966_lAfter all, most of the young adults who participate in our New Pathways programs share commonalities of experience: indifferent or absent parents, stolen childhoods, teen pregnancy, single motherhood, paltry or aborted educations, stunted skill sets, limited options. This pile up of delinquencies litters their personal landscape, all but obliterating their view of a bright and promising future.48973744 - landscape in the sierra nevada mountains It’s out there, just over the horizon, but to reach it, they first have to navigate a rocky and rutty road, pockmarked by unforeseen consequences and foregone conclusions. Bystanders (like you and me) look at the road ahead of these young adults and grow weary at the very thought of what obstacles stand in their way. For the young people who proceed down the road, the journey will give pause to even the most iron-willed among them. Many will falter. All will need encouragement. And more. 47050396 - fragment of an ancient mapBecause despite what many of us think, will power alone will not get them where they want to go. They need dedicated “tour guides” and committed “traveler’s aids” helping them along the path. That’s where New Pathways comes in.  No two young adults will choose the same route. But those who take the road that leads through New Pathways always end up on the other side of hopelessness.

SSStill, there is something else our young clients require along the way that is just as vital.  And that is supportive cheerleaders who take the journey with them, if only in spirit. Believing in them and rooting them on past every roadblock, pitfall, and hurdle. That’s where you come in. And that’s why you should read these stories.

Yes, it would be easy to believe – because you’ve read and heard so many factoids regarding this “demographic” – that you, in fact, already know and understand the individuals involved. But you don’t. Not really. Not nearly. Each young New Pathways’ client is different. Blessed with untapped potential and unique personal gifts just waiting to be unwrapped.

For both the young person and the reader, the journey together is like a pilgrimage, really. Because a pilgrimage is taken in the light of a story already told. And the pilgrim goes anyway… in order to be changed by the experience of the pilgrimage itself.

So, take the journey with these courageous young adults.  Because while their shared experiences may confound you, their individual stories will inspire you. And, you will be forever changed by the journey.

If you are inspired by the young people we serve at New Pathways, please pass their stories along to others. Tell them about the New Pathways blog, You Are Here, and our website. Tell them about New Pathways and its mission to transform the lives of Maryland’s disconnected youth through education and job training, life skills and moral support.

Invitation_0804a1

 

And join us, Thursday, October 12, from 6PM to 9PM at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore for a very special evening of celebration and spell-binding oral history during which our young clients and their advocates will convey first-hand, personal stories of overcoming barriers and achieving success.  Tickets go on sale later this month through our website.

Click here to learn more.

 

29346126 - map pointer. single flat color icon.

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Foster Care Services, Independent Living, Job Training, Juvenile Services, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathways to success, social barriers, Success Stories, Workforce Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pathfinders Program 2017: An Overview

In addition to providing services to the young adults who are referred to us, New Pathways knows how important it is to extend that same support to the families of the greater metropolitan area at large. To that end, we have taken our work into the community in an effort to engage vulnerable youth where they live. These strategies commonly use a partnership model, which hosts our programs in a variety of sites and provides an array of individualized services. Pathfinders is one such program.

2017 graduate, Tiffany

Pathfinders partners with the Y in Central Maryland and Baltimore County Public
Schools (BCPS). Under the supervision of New Pathways’ Community Support Specialist, Kyle Beliczky, the Pathfinders program provides year-round intervention to homeless youth in five different Baltimore County high schools: Chesapeake, Dundalk, Sparrows Point, Patapsco, and Kenwood. The program’s services include: pre-employment skills training, summer employment, individual case management, and family support. The program’s focus is on successful completion of high school, housing stability, and vocational or college preparation. Established in 2015, the program serves an average of 30 high school students a year. Academic year 2017-2018 marks the program’s third year of service.

2017 graduate, Destiny

In year one, there were nine seniors in the program, all of whom went on to a two or four-year college. In its second year (the school year ending June 2017), there were 13 seniors. Of those, 12 graduated. Of the 12, 11 went on to a two or four-year college. One chose employment instead and obtained a full-time job upon graduation. For all its homeless participants, Pathfinders has made the difference between gaining a foothold and slipping through the cracks. For many, the program has provided an extra safety net and an added advantage, things that kids from more stable backgrounds take for granted.

“There are so many more things these kids have to worry about besides good grades,” Kyle said. “It’s pretty hard to focus on school when you’re living in a motel or your electricity has been turned off, or the family is falling apart. Those things can lead to a lot of tension or, worse, trauma.”  That’s why the program focuses not just on the student, but the family as a unit. Helping the family maintain stability while advocating for the student’s access to opportunity and options for the future is a delicate balancing act.

2017 graduate, Rhiannon

“I mean, at the end of the day, some families just really need their kids to stick around and help support the household,” Kyle explained. In those cases, sometimes Kyle finds himself in the difficult position of helping students understand the limits of their options. For the most part, however, Kyle sees his role as one that cultivates empowerment within the student. He helps empower them to stay the course, plan their future, dream big, and delay gratification if necessary. Kyle finds the job extremely rewarding and the program’s success rate speaks for itself.  This June, Kyle attended five different high school commencement ceremonies in support of 12 triumphant graduates. He stood
quietly in the back, amongst a lot of proud and happy parents and kids.  No one was beaming quite as brightly as Kyle.

Read about the journey of one of Kyle’s Pathfinder students, Rhiannon, in the preceding six part series. Click here for Part One.

29346126 - map pointer. single flat color icon.

 

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Pathways to success, Rhiannon, social barriers, Success Stories, Y in Central maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: A Series

Part Six: Skylark

                                        She rules her life like a fine skylark…

thumbnail_IMG_0771What a difference a month makes. When we last saw Rhiannon, she was in “free fall” (see Part Five). With graduation from Patapsco High School right around the corner, Rhiannon was about to leave the one place she’d felt most “at home.” And though she had been accepted by Temple University on a substantial scholarship, there was no guarantee that she’d be able to come up with the rest of the financing needed to attend. All the self-confidence that she’d built up over the past four years was beginning to wane as she faced an uncertain future. It looked as if she would crash to earth. But…what a difference a month makes. Through sheer will power and the help of more than one guardian angel (not the least of whom was Kyle Beliczky of New Pathways and their Pathfinders Program), Rhiannon pulled out of her dive bomb in the nick of time. When we met for one last interview over breakfast and coffee at the Broadway Diner on Eastern Avenue, Rhiannon was positively flying high. As an adult concerned with the practical matters of life, I was most interested in finding out if she’d come up with a successful financial plan for college. But Rhiannon was much more interested in telling me about all the honors she’d received and awards she’d won at graduation. With good reason. Rhiannon, as it turned out, had won quite a few.  In between bites of French toast swimming in maple syrup (“my favorite,” she said with glee), Rhiannon began to rattle off a long list of honors.

SCHO IMG_0390“First, I won four scholarships. One from the Baltimore County Public School’s education foundation, one for being Miss Patapsco, one for being a model Patriot (school name for its students and teams), and finally, the best one, the Technical Theatre award given to me by Mr. Carlson (her theatre coach and mentor).” Rhiannon was now talking so fast and excitedly, she barely touched her breakfast. “I won $1,950.00 in all. I won more scholarships than anyone else, well, except for one other girl who won more but she’s an athlete, so, you know, she got a lot of athletic scholarships.”

Point taken.

“The money should definitely help with college expenses,” I interjected, hoping to segue to finance.

“Yeah. Right. Anyway, so then there’s all the other awards and honors,” Rhiannon continued, not skipping a beat. Financing would have to wait. She was so happy and proud sitting across from me telling me about her accomplishments. And besides, the list – by anyone’s standards – was quite impressive.

“…and I was number 24 in my class of 350, ranking me in the top 10% which is why,” IMG_0038showing me a photo on her phone, “my cap and gown is red, not white, like everybody else,” she said making certain I understood the visual significance of the honor. The list went on. National Honor Society. International Thespian Honor Society. Several Cappie Awards (the high school equivalent of Broadway’s Tony awards), Best Director and…wait for it…Best Leading Actress award.

“I realllly didn’t expect that,” Rhiannon said, still shocked (see Part Five). Rhiannon had worked hard through her high school years at Patapsco. Both in the Theatre program of the magnet school and in all her other subjects. She had earned this moment of basking in her own glory. It was a joy to see. Still, our mission at New Pathways is not only to guide young adults through an often treacherous present, but to prepare them for a safer and more secure future.

“Rhiannon, I have to ask…will you be attending Temple in the fall? Have you got your financing in order?”

“Yes. I’ve picked a meal plan and I have a roommate. And yes…Mr. Kyle helped me with the deposit extension and with FAFSA forms. And my mother and sister, and brother-in-law all helped with the applications and bank paperwork. I’m good to go.”

Rhiannon and proud sister, Tuesday

In previous conversations, Rhiannon held her parents responsible for her precarious childhood. But this day, she was feeling magnanimous. “You know, Mom’s really smart and she’s good with numbers. She used to work in a bank, you know. I mean, she always has a game plan. I knew she’d help me figure it all out.”  Rhiannon picked at her breakfast. “And Tuesday and Aaron (sister and brother-in-law) have always, always been there for me,” Rhiannon emphasized. “They came to every show. Cheered me on at every stage. Picked me up after every crisis. I’d be lost without them.” Her parents did not make it to many of Rhiannon’s school plays throughout her years at Patapsco.

“No, they weren’t always in the audience. But they were always cheering me on from home,” Rhiannon explained. She moved the bits of toast around on her plate. “You know…Mom tries hard every day. I think my parents, both of them, they taught me good lessons. One way or another. I forgive them. I don’t see any point in shaming them.” What Rhiannon was displaying in that moment was far more than magnanimity. It was compassion. It is love.

Rhiannon was named by her dad for the Fleetwood Mac song (see Part One). A line from the song goes: “She rules her life like a fine skylark.” The skylark is a bird always in the air, rarely landing. It is a symbol of freedom, inspiration, hope…even joy. In the Percy Shelley poem, To A Skylark, a skylark soars in the sky, singing happily. Though eventually the bird disappears from sight, its song lingers in the air.  Rhiannon is our skylark. Sometimes, just “winging it.” Other times, soaring upwards. But always – good fortune willing, with the wind at her back and love in her heart – flying high.  Soon, she will be out of sight. But she knows where she is going. And – thanks to all those who gave her wing – she is on course.

Whenever and wherever she lands…Rhiannon is going to be just fine.

52871225_l

Next up: An overview of the 2017 Pathfinders program, the other students enrolled, and Kyle Beliczky’s summary of their successes. Click here to read.

29346126 - map pointer. single flat color icon.

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Financial Literacy, Foster Care Services, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Pathways to success, Rhiannon, social barriers, Success Stories, Y in Central maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: A Series

Part Five: Worlds Colliding

Rhiannon was in free fall. A citizen of a half dozen different realms and realities, her FLIPPED44051681_l copyworlds were about to collide. It was hard to hear the “still small voice” (see Part Two) at the center of her existence which she’d come to rely on, above the explosive bursting of bubbles all around her. The nurturing, safe haven of Patapsco High School and Center for the Performing Arts, which had been her salvation and given her the freedom to be utterly herself, was now pushing Rhiannon out of the nest. As graduation approached, she would soon have to say goodbye to close friends, great teachers, and caring mentors. There’d been no such safe haven at home. Ever. No home at all, in fact. Still homeless, Rhiannon and her disabled mother currently live with a friend of her mother in a small apartment, miles from the school. Rhiannon admits to being jealous of her friends whose parents pick them up
from school after drama practice. Though late at night, Rhiannon must settle for waiting at the MTA stop and taking the bus home by herself. It is little things like that that are a constant reminder of her predicament. When asked who she trusts, she is quick to mention her Patapsco drama coaches, Mr. and Mrs. Carlson. She also mentions her older sister, Tuesday, who has always been there for her (see Part Two). She does not mention her parents. That is not to say, she does not love them. She does. And like most of us, she can paint a picture of family life that is a “jumble of good times and bad, love and betrayal, and familial role reversals” (see Part Two). She laughs when she shares the advice her parents have given her to explain their situation.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” they tell her. “This builds character.” And most importantly, “Don’t mention to anyone at school that the electricity has been turned off due to an unpaid bill or they’ll come and take you away.”

One could perhaps see the humor in some of it. If this were a sit-com. But it is not. This is Rhiannon’s life. And one can’t help but wonder if some of the “advice” isn’t just another way to avoid responsibility. Rhiannon, in fact, did mention the power outage to a counselor who did report it to the authorities. As was her job. Nevertheless, as a result, Rhiannon does not trust counselors. Her mother, after all is still her mother and a source of comfort to Rhiannon. It’s complicated.
47669546_lHer drama teachers, the Carlsons, have always been straight with Rhiannon. And they have given her a lot of leeway, overlooking the occasional diva behavior and putting up with a temper tantrum or two. They have stood by her through four years of high school, which has given Rhiannon a great sense of security, indeed.

“When I’m here (in the drama club or in a play), I feel at home,” Rhiannon confided.

The Carlsons have also helped Rhiannon face the strengths and limitations of her talent. “I prefer being on stage,” Rhiannon explained and she sulks over not getting the lead in the latest school play.  “But the truth is,” she admitted, “I’m better at directing.”   The Carlsons instinctively knew this and asked Rhiannon to direct the senior project, a play called “I Bet Your Life.”  It does not surprise the interviewer at all that Rhiannon is a natural at directing. She is a detail oriented, take-charge kind of person. It is also not surprising that while she may prefer to be on stage, she has somehow come to terms with her strengths and weaknesses. Which is why, perhaps, she has chosen a college course of study that does not involve the theatre, but does involve a great deal of attention to detail (see Part Four). Rhiannon is no dummy, knows herself better than she realizes, and is pretty good at (eventually) facing reality. Which makes the loose ends about college financing all the more perplexing.

Rhiannon had been accepted to Temple University in Philadelphia, her first choice. She had also been offered a generous scholarship. It seemed she was well on her way to achieving her dreams. Still, there was the small matter of a $400 deposit that was past due (see Part Four), and the larger matter of $15,000 a year extra that would not be covered by the scholarship and which Rhiannon would have to come up with herself. 46927572 - human hands.
This is when the stark reality of her young age and her family situation was most evident. Let us pause here to remember just how much hand-holding, safety netting, and overwhelming support most of us had at that age. If Rhiannon is a little uncertain about how to proceed as one reality ends and another begins, she can be forgiven.

Enter Kyle Beliczky, her Community Support Specialist at New Pathways. When he heard that Rhiannon was late with the deposit that would ensure her a place at Temple, he became concerned. Not that “college advisor” is in his job description. It isn’t. And Kyle has already stepped up in ways that have had a profoundly positive effect on Rhiannon and her mother, including getting Rhiannon the job at PCS phone (see Part Three), 35288872 - paper headline with college text in torn dollar bill
working to keep their housing stable, and connecting them to critical county services. Still, he stepped in to help in whatever way he could. He and Rhiannon met at school and, together, called Temple to discuss the deposit. As a result of that intervention, Rhiannon was granted an extension on the deposit, which has since been handed in. Kyle also went over FAFSA applications (the federal student aid plan) with Rhiannon and suggested she speak with her school advisors and family about the possibility of applying for student loans. Kyle’s intervention does not insure that Rhiannon is 100% certain to go to Temple next year. That is beyond his power. But it did buy Rhiannon some much needed time. Not to put too fine a point on it, but most of us forget just how much support we had growing up and just how much we took that support for granted. It is nice to know there are people out there who will go the extra mile to help someone who has less than the traditional support.

1thumbnail_FullSizeRenderWith graduation just two weeks away, Rhiannon’s future is far from certain. She has done her part. Worked hard. Gotten good grades. Made friends. Had a full and rewarding life at high school. And been accepted at university. But, as it turns out, there is a world of difference between getting in and going. One thing is certain, however. Rhiannon has a lot to offer the world. She deserves a chance to fulfill her dreams and follow her curiosity. Tune in to our sixth and final chapter of The Life and Journey of Rhiannon to find out where she ends up in September.

29346126 - map pointer. single flat color icon.

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Financial Literacy, Foster Care Services, Job Training, Juvenile Services, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Pathways to success, Rhiannon, social barriers, Uncategorized, Y in Central maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: A Series

Part Four: Cracked Veneer

1thumbnail_FullSizeRender

When Rhiannon received the letter letting her know she had been accepted by Temple University, she called to share the good news. Everything seemed to be falling into place. She had been a good student, had methodically researched colleges and universities, applied to those that met her needs, and settled on Temple in Philadelphia as her first choice because it offered a degree in the course of study to which she was drawn. It might surprise you to learn she does not want to be a Theatre major.

21827324 - puzzle fingerprint“I want to get a degree in Forensic Science and Technology with Applied Anthropology,” Rhiannon explained matter-of-factly.  “I love science. I love to figure things out and solve problems. Maybe I’ll get a job with the police force or FBI,” she mused, in her usual 10-steps-ahead-mode that she says defines her (see Part Two). “Did you know that bones can tell an entire life story? My whole life is full of unanswered questions! Why did this happen? Why did that happen? To be able to figure things out…that’s fascinating to me. Besides…I can always try out for the school play or do community theatre on the side.” At the moment, all worlds seemed available to Rhiannon. But that is the down side of looking ten steps ahead, while essentially overlooking, say, steps six through nine.
When we sat down for our next in-person interview a week or so later, Rhiannon Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 4.04.47 PM
seemed a bit agitated. The strong veneer that she hid behind was starting to show signs of stress fractures.  She was high-strung that morning and spoke at a fever pitch. Her foot wiggled in perpetual motion on the bottom rung of her chair while she addressed her diatribe to and fixed her gaze on not the interviewer in front of her, but some point off in space; to no one in particular and to the whole world in general. The subject that set her off was the prickly topic of college affordability. Temple had offered Rhiannon a generous scholarship. But even with that, she would still need another $15,000 a year to cover costs. She was not sure just where that would come from. Certainly not her parents, neither of whom are employed and who both are on disability with multiple issues and ailments. Rhiannon hoped to parlay her job at the local Metro PCS store into one at its franchise on the Temple campus. Still, with a full course of study and extracurriculars, she was not sure a part-time job would make up the difference. And none of her Metro PCS connections had yet intervened on her behalf. Then there was the annoying little detail of a $400 deposit that was past due which would insure her place in the Temple Class of 2021 and room and board on campus. Rhiannon wasn’t sure exactly why or how that date had been missed.

“What is the cut-off date for letting Temple know whether you’re going there or not?”

“Oh! I’m going there! That’s my first choice. That’s the only place I want to go. I’m going there,” Rhiannon answered defiantly.

“Yes, I realize that if you could make it happen through sheer will power, Rhiannon, there’d be no question of your attending Temple. But, when will you sign on the dotted line, so to speak? When will you have your financing in order so that you are guaranteed a place?”

“I don’t know. I’m trying to find that out.”

We sat in silence for a few seconds. It was hard to tell whether Rhiannon really couldn’t 47781644 - meteor  comet flat icon for astronomy website and apps
answer the questions or simply wouldn’t. Whether she was being willfully ignorant, working against her own best interest or, well, basically… just being a typical teenager with focus issues. Or, perhaps and more likely… she was just feeling a little helpless. Oh, it’s not as if she doesn’t have teachers and mentors, counselors and caseworkers in her corner. She does. But she also has trust issues, having repeatedly been let down by those she should have been able to depend on the most. Consequently, she is never quite certain who to listen to or who really has her best interest at heart. Rhiannon is a citizen of a half dozen different worlds. And one thing is clear. They are all about to collide.

Just when you thought she’d reached the top, Rhiannon is suddenly in free fall.

Who or what will break her fall? Will she land on her feet? Will she take the next step?Return here to find out in The Life and Journey of Rhiannon, Part 5.

29346126 - map pointer. single flat color icon.

 

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Financial Literacy, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Rhiannon, social barriers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Measure of Success

On the one hand, Ben’s story is so familiar as to be run of the mill. On the other hand, when you sit across from him and watch him intently as he tells his story, it is not long before you immediately recognize and cherish the unique individual that he, as Ben – not a statistic – is.

The cliché Ben is a 20-year old, (formerly) unemployed, African-American male, brought up by a single mother in Baltimore City, who has seen his share of hard times.  The authentic Ben, however, is so much more than that. Minutes into an interview with him, it is clear that Ben is a young man with a good heart, a healthy conscience, a seasoned maturity, and a keen mind. He makes no excuses about the trouble he brought on himself as a teenager, nor does he have any illusions about what it will take to get and stay on track. He also is more than willing and able to work and has a proven record of doing just that.

Diagnosed with learning disabilities at a young age, school was very difficult for Ben. This led to a rocky adolescence. He began to get into real trouble as a teenager, which caused great anxiety in the family. To alleviate the stress he caused his mother and sister, Ben left home.

17271970 - lighthouse and wave
While it did little to relieve Mom’s concerns, it did propel Ben down a tangled path of rude awakenings, self-reflection, and couch-surfing. It also led to a series of jobs, which – while none provided long term security – did develop in Ben a good work ethic and a unique set of skills including retail, technical, management, and customer service skills. Listening to him, I was reminded of a very successful businessman who once told me that over the course of his life – from boyhood odd jobs to retirement as a CEO – there was nothing that he didn’t learn in one job that he wasn’t able to apply to the next. The man valued every experience and used it to his advantage. Ben seemed to have that same outlook. Still, the jobs came and went, depending on seasonality, the market, or the economy. Though no longer living at home, Ben never lost touch with his mother who he calls “the greatest influence” in his life.  Through it all she continued to advise him and suggest programs that might be able to help him, including the Youth Empowered Society in Baltimore. One day, when his spirits and luck were particularly low (he was unemployed, homeless, and sleeping on a friend’s couch in DC), Ben and his mother agreed to meet for lunch in downtown Baltimore. They had a nice visit. Mom listened intently to Ben’s tale of woe. When it was time to leave, Mom picked up the tab and then turned to give Ben a hug goodbye. He was taken aback.

“You mean, I’m not coming home with you?” he asked in disbelief.

“Son, you’re a man now. You’ve got to figure this one out on your own.” It was the 45516974 - what have you learned
hardest thing either one of them ever had to do.  Ben conveys this and all his stories without a hint of bitterness. Rather, it is all related with a shake of the head, and a sense of, “Well, another lesson learned.”  One thing he knew for sure, he wanted desperately to stay out of trouble and off the streets. That was imperative. He returned to the Youth Empowered Society, which, in turn, introduced him to New Pathways and our Warehouse Certification program. Ben applied and was accepted. The Career Development Coach at New Pathways, Mr. Russell Drake, had the same first and lasting impression of Ben.

“Ben had a real presence and a maturity about him. He wasn’t a fake and did what he said he was going to do. He was punctual, responsive, focused, and had follow through,” Russell explained. “I never had a doubt that he has what it takes to acquire a safe, secure, independent, and productive life for himself.”  From Russell’s mouth to God’s ear as the saying goes. Would that it were that easy.

Ben graduated with flying colors and received his Warehouse logistics certification and IMG_1261forklift operator’s license. He applied for dozens of jobs and went on dozens of interviews. And they all asked the same question:

“Do you have any warehouse experience?”

“I thought that was the whole purpose of the certification program. To provide that experience,” I asked, confused.

“So did I,” said Ben. He did not give up.  After a couple of weeks, Ben did indeed get a job in Warehouse logistics with Amazon. We at New Pathways cannot imagine Amazon ever 44051921_l
regretting that hire. So, Ben goes in the “Success” column. A success for Amazon, New Pathways, Mom, and – most importantly – Ben.  No one can take that success away from him. Ever. But is it a success for society? How many Bens are out there still looking? How many young men who may not have the emotional maturity of Ben but who have the same raw potential are being rejected without real engagement? How do we get businesses, policy makers, and other partners committed on a deeper level and engaged on a personal level so that they see beyond the resume to the rich possibilities and untapped potential?  And how many lives – on both sides of the employment line – will be changed for the better? That will be a true measure of success.

29346126 - map pointer. single flat color icon.

 

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Empowered Society, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Independent Living, Job Training, Juvenile Services, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathways to success, social barriers, Success Stories, Warehouse Certification, Workforce Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: A Series

Part Three: Like a Rolling Stone? Not Exactly. 

Rhiannon is well into the second semester of her senior year at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts and she is in overdrive.  Most high school seniors sort of coast through their last semester. Not so Rhiannon. She apologizes politely for not returning e-mails, texts, and voicemail in a timely fashion and explains that she is in yet another play at Patapsco (Annie), that rehearsals are “late, tiresome, and hectic,” and that she is in a bit of a “tug of war over her schedule with her director, stage manager, and teachers.”  Add to that the fact that Rhiannon carries a full course load this semester including: AVID (a college 61192826_l
prep course), Theatre, Math, AP English, and Economics and Public Issues, and that she serves as a teacher’s aide in the theatre department, and well…you get the idea. Rhiannon is “crazy busy.”  Now – as if school and theatre weren’t all-consuming – Rhiannon also works 20 hours (sometimes more) a week at a local Metro PCS phone store. Quite unlike the proverbial rock, this rolling stone gathers plenty of moss. It is as if she is making up for her rootless, itinerant childhood. Rhiannon practically steamrolls through life gathering ‘moss’ in the form of friendships, mentorships, and invaluable experience.  And in the process, she outpaces herself and others, remaining – as she pointed out in Part 2 of this series – “ten steps ahead” in setting goals and making connections.

It was Kyle Beliczky, the New Pathways Community Support Specialist assigned to Patapsco who introduced Rhiannon to the concept of setting goals and who was instrumental in helping her get her job at Metro PCS.

“Senior year is expensive!” Rhiannon griped. “There’s prom, yearbook, club dues, senior portrait, cap and gown. Besides, whenever I get my paycheck, the hands are always out at home,” Rhiannon offered as a way of explaining just how far her paycheck needs to stretch in a family where neither parent works.  “It’s really important to have a job.” Aware that perhaps she has just revealed her softer side – something Rhiannon is not entirely comfortable doing – she quickly added:

“I do this for me. I look at my parents and think, ‘I can’t be like that.’ I made that promise to myself.”

35819011_l.jpg
When Rhiannon was close to getting the job at Metro PCS, New Pathways’ Kyle Beliczky acted as a reference and advocate on her behalf. The company guideline is that employees should be 18 years of age. Rhiannon was a couple months shy of her 18th birthday. But Kyle explained what an asset the bilingual Rhiannon would be in a store where most of the clientele is Hispanic.  That’s right. Rhiannon is fluent in Spanish. She got the job. She likes it, explaining, “I’m good at it. I’m tech savvy,” and she refers to her bosses at the store as “mentors and friends.”  Like all her life experiences, Rhiannon will try and parley this one into another opportunity in the future. And she is already looking ahead to college.

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 11.19.41 AM
“A lot of schools have PCS stores on campus. I want to use the network to try and get a job at college.” Ten steps ahead. She has her heart set on Temple University in Philadelphia. But even with a part time job, Rhiannon will need a full scholarship to afford the tuition, room, and board. And it’s competitive out there. Will Rhiannon even be accepted by Temple? If so, will she get enough financial aid to enable her to attend? Does she have a Plan B? And who will help her navigate all these decisions?

Tune in next time to “The Life and Journey of Rhiannon,” Part 4 to find out.

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Job Training, Juvenile Services, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Pathways to success, Rhiannon, social barriers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: A Series

Part Two: Attention Must Be Paid

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight…and never stop fighting.    ee cummings
                                                                                                                 

thumbnail_fullsizerenderRhiannon was just 8 years old the first time she and her family were evicted from their home. Plant closings and job layoffs were contributing factors. It was the perfect storm of events that would send the family on a traumatic roller coaster ride of ups and downs, separations and reunions, uncertainty and instability. Things would never be the same.

Like all of us, really, Rhiannon can paint a picture of family life that is a jumble of good times and bad, love and betrayal, and familial role reversals. Her family is at once tight knit and scattered. She speaks of her parents lovingly but does not let them off the hook for what has become of them, and credits Tuesday, her older sister (by one year), for

thumbnail_fullsizerender-8

Tuesday and Rhiannon

“stepping up to the plate” and playing the adult role through their aborted childhoods. They spent the better part of their young lives in and out of shelters, rectories, and makeshift homes. At one point, the family took up residence in a “roofless, floorless” dilapidated house in Brooklyn Park, where, according to Rhiannon, the family huddled together in the “blue room” – the only room that didn’t leak.  In the beginning, her parents were all about “keeping the family together” no matter what the circumstances, but eventually, as so often happens in these situations, Rhiannon’s parents split up. They went their separate ways and endured their own personal and sometimes hellish odysseys. For a while, the kids ended up in foster care as their parents came and went.  Today, Rhiannon lives with her mother and both parents are still very much in her life. But as Rhiannon likes to remind us, “This is not their story. This is my story.” Indeed, it is.

thumbnail_fullsizerender-3It’s easy to lose one’s way on a life journey such as Rhiannon’s. Even easier to lose one’s sense of self when everyone is telling you what you can or can’t do. Can or can’t say. What, in fact, you can reveal… or must conceal.  But as was suggested in Part One of this series, “hope is a fighter.”  If one can locate, at the center of one’s existence, the ‘still, small voice’ within, it can become one’s greatest ally and guide one along the most challenging and treacherous of life’s byways. Rhiannon has found that voice. It is not always still and rarely small. But it is hers. And attention must be paid.

It is hard to know whether Rhiannon came into the world hard-wired this way or if circumstances conspired to develop the need in her, but the fact of the matter is, Rhiannon craves attention. She knows it and is unapologetic. She does not believe that her current situation means that she should ever settle for less than what she hopes for and expects.

“Some people say that I only think about myself,” Rhiannon explained. “But that’s not thumbnail_fullsizerender-5true. I think about the future. I’m ten steps ahead. And what I learn and what goals I reach can help other kids push forward, too. Somebody’s gotta do it. Somebody’s gotta pay attention.”  What is remarkable about Rhiannon’s self-knowledge is the unadulterated clarity of it. Perhaps even more remarkable (and fortuitous) however, is that Rhiannon has found an outlet for her cravings. The stage. Ever since she can remember, Rhiannon has loved to put on plays and act. She was determined, no matter what stood in the way (geography, support, resources) to attend Patapsco High School and Center for the Performing Arts. It is there she thumbnail_img_1221met her mentor, theater director, Kevin Carlson; there she met New Pathways community support specialist, Kyle Beliczky; and there she found her voice. She comes alive when on stage and has been in dozens of plays in her 4 years at Patapsco including Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in her junior year. This year, she had the lead role in the school play, She Kills Monsters, performed in Patapsco’s experimental, new black box theatre. There is no role too small or unimportant as far as Rhiannon is concerned. This past Christmas, she was only too happy to play Rudolph in the Dundalk holiday parade.

“Acting is my life,” Rhiannon explains with glee. And it is certainly a tremendous outlet for her energy and need for attention.

But just when you think you have this young woman pegged… she reveals another layer.

***

Coming up in further installments of The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: Rhiannon gets a job, plans for college, and decides on a career. Hint: It’s not acting.

 

Posted in Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Foster Care Services, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Pathways to success, Rhiannon, social barriers, Success Stories, Uncategorized, Y in Central maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Life and Journey of Rhiannon: A New Series

Part One: Hope is a Fighter

37586278 - easter and agriculture theme vector illustration

Most of the young people who are brought to the attention of New Pathways come from similar backgrounds: economically fragile and emotionally unpredictable homes. The one community they should be able to count on for stability and safety – family – often provides neither. Insecurity inevitably takes its toll, manifest in a thousand different ways: neglect, rage, recompense, repetition…

 

57732340 - egg shell icon in flat style with long shadow. food symbol

 

The sad thing is, a person can get used to anything. The more one tolerates a bad situation, the more ‘normal’ that situation seems to be.  Every kid who comes our way seems to have a 50-50 chance to break the pattern.

 

 

The thing we’ve noticed about the New Pathways kids who make it is their fighting spirit. 26519663 - vector illustration of origami bird ripping paper
Sometimes fierce. Sometimes just simmering under the surface. Always defiant. They are acutely aware of the way things are and though they may tolerate it for a while, they never accept it. They are card carrying members of The Resistance. Resistance, not to be confused with resentment, is good. Resentment is persistent ill will and is not very productive. It doesn’t lead to change. Resistance, on the other hand, says “No,” refuses to go along, and finds a way to change things for the better.  Resisters very much want, expect… hope for… something better.  And, why shouldn’t they?

Over the course of the next few months, we’ll journey with one such resister who has beenresistance-53215971_l1.jpg brought into our New Pathways fold. Her name is Rhiannon, so called after the Fleetwood Mac song of the same name. It seems apropos. Like the title character of the song, Rhiannon “rules her life like a bird in flight.” She won’t be pinned down. Won’t settle. And won’t be told who she is, thank you very much. She’ll do the telling. A lover of music, Rhiannon’s father named her after the song, 17 years ago. Rhiannon just laughs. After all, he named her older sister, Tuesday, after a Rolling Stones’ song about another elusive enchantress named Ruby Tuesday who “comes and goes” but “no one knows.”  Like the subjects of both songs, our Rhiannon was never sure just where she would lay her head at night or when she would suddenly have to take flight, because for most of her young life, Rhiannon has been homeless. Despite that fact, Rhiannon has found comfort in the emotional shelter and support provided by both her school, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts and Pathfinders, the New Pathways community program for homeless youth in Baltimore County run by New Pathways rhiannon-dsc_0665Community Support Specialist, Kyle Beliczky. Rhiannon has graciously agreed to let New Pathways follow her on her journey through this, the last semester of her senior year in high school. It’s both a scary and thrilling time for any high school senior but Rhiannon is game. She is outspoken. Fearless. And ferociously motivated. She is also vivacious, funny, and unabashedly open. Where will her journey lead her? To what heights will she soar? What new terrain will she explore? What challenges will she face and where will she land at the end of the year? Only time will tell, but from what we’ve seen so far, Rhiannon is up to the task. For sure, she will not settle for her current state of status quo and she has the spirit necessary to make change happen. Hope, as it turns out, is a fighter. 14911079 - a black and white version of two small chirping chicks

Join us on the journey. Because every young fighter needs cheering on.

***

Part Two: Attention Must Be Paid

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Foster Care Services, Juvenile Services, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Opportunity Youth, Pathfinders, Pathways to success, Rhiannon, Uncategorized, Y in Central maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Prodigy Project: New Mentorship Program, Brainchild of New Pathways’ Interns

58533312 - change choice development ideas improvement conceptWe don’t know how an entire generation ever got branded with the label “slacker” to begin with…but we’re here to tell you, the Millennials that hang around New Pathways are anything but! They are self-starters, go-getters, and thought generators! Their mantras are “What if” and “Says who?”  And to them, “can’t”… is just a four-letter word.  They’ve got energy, ideas, and unlimited potential. Take two of our college interns, for example.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-00-33-pm

Janell and Brandon

New Pathways’ interns, Janell Bethea (Morgan State University) and Brandon White (Towson University) had an idea. They saw a need for a mentorship program at New Pathways and ran the idea by Associate Director, Nancy Strohminger. In her infinite wisdom, Nancy said, “Go for it!” Actually, Nancy had only gotten the word “Go…” out of her mouth when Brandon and Janell were off and running. Now, if we could only bottle such enthusiasm.

Called the Prodigy Project, and still in its incubation stage, the program is designed to pair up college students from the “Alpha Life” communities (sororities and fraternities) at both universities with our young clients at New Pathways. Janell and Brandon posted fliers across their respective college campuses (virtually and literally), which advertised the mentorship concept and invited their fellow students to join them in a brainstorming session at New Pathways earlier this month. More than 25 enthusiastic students showed up! On a Saturday!  Over the course of an afternoon, the students shared ideas and pizza and worked out what steps need to be taken to get the project up and running. One of the ideas that came out of the session is to design a survey to be filled out by both potential mentors and New Pathways clients that will serve as a tool to match up mentor and youth. Prerequisites for participation include mentor training and a minimum commitment of time. Co-director of the initiative, Brandon White, currently a senior at Towson University majoring in Family Studies and Human Services, explained why he thinks the program is so important:

“I grew up with my mom in a single parent home. From the male perspective, I know how important it is for young men to have strong male role models. Most of the kids at New Pathways come from broken homes. These young men and young women have both missed out on the benefits that a strong, personal relationship can provide.”  As conceived, The Prodigy Project will pair female youth participants with female mentors and male participants with male mentors. Brandon sees the project as a personal responsibility.

img_2965

Brandon

“What you pour in…gets poured out,” Brandon explained. “Everybody needs someone to look up to. The young adults at New Pathways crave that. But they’re at that age where they’re looking for ‘indirect’ advice. They don’t want people to tell them what to do so much as to show them. They’re looking for good examples whose lead they can observe and follow.”

Brandon, age 26, struggled a bit after high school, before finding a clear path. The way he sees it, if he can make that path just a little easier for someone else, he’d like to do.

“I asked myself, ‘What is it that I can do to better myself’?” Brandon explained. “Then I asked, “And how can I leave a clear path for others? I don’t want to just leave footprints. I want to leave footprints others can and want to walk in.”

Brandon and Janell’s target date for launch of the Prodigy Project is January 2017. The youth we serve at New Pathways are lucky to have Brandon and Janell on their side.

So are we.

Posted in Baltimore, Baltimore Youth, Barriers to success, Disconnected Youth, Life Skills Training, Maryland Youth, Mentorship, New Pathways, Opportunity Youth, Pathways to success, Prodigy Project, social barriers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment