Sometimes all it takes is encouragement.
Shlonda never had much. Then when case manager in SaintA’s Independent Living Services (ILS) program reached out to her, things started to change.
Shlonda is 26 and has been with ILS, which helps former foster children achieve successful and independent adult lives, for five years. Her younger sister first became a participant in the program.
“She saw I was having difficulty getting on my feet,” Shlonda said. “I was just watching her kids, and I wasn’t doing anything for myself. I needed resources.”
When her sister’s case manager dropped off some bus passes at the place they shared, Shlonda talked to her. The woman encouraged Shlonda to fill out an application, and within a short time she was in the program.
The caseworker helped Shlonda get back into school and encouraged her to work toward her GED. Shlonda had been having problems with transportation to school, so bus passes were a big help.
“And I couldn’t pass history for anything, and she encouraged me to talk to my instructors. I hadn’t been encouraged to ask questions before.”
The former case manager left ILS, and Shlonda was assigned to Christine Woods. With her help, Shlonda achieved the GED. She also got enrolled in Milwaukee Area Technical College, where she is now in her second year. She is on track to graduate in a human services program in June of 2015. After that, she plans to transfer to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and major in social work.
“I saw a lot of potential in Shlonda, and I knew the GED was just a stepping stone,” Christine said. “I give her positives and tell her how I see a lot of myself in her.
“No one’s ever told her, ‘Good job!’ or ‘Do what you need to do. You’re a worthwhile human being, and you should be doing what you want to do.’ We tell all our people things like that because they need that support and to hear that they’re valued.”
Shlonda really wants to do something in human services work with young people in their late teens or early 20’s who have serious disadvantages in life. She says Christine, who is doing just that in ILS, is a big inspiration to her. And although school is complicated at times, Shlonda said, “I buckle down, and overall it’s a learning experience, in subject matters and in life.”
Her favorite course so far has been in psychological development. She said it opened her eyes to things she had experienced in her past and helped her to understand more about her childhood and the neglect she suffered. The course also helped her realize how young adults see the world, how to trust and what being an adult is all about, she said.
“I passed that one with a B+!”
Without her higher education track and the encouragement of ILS, Shlonda said she’d probably still be living with her younger sister and taking care of her kids, and “not knowing how to become an adult.”
“They treat you like a family here, and you get close to the other participants. It’s cool to talk to them about anything and to feel that family love.”
Shlonda particularly likes “Working Wednesdays,” sessions that promote education and interaction among ILS participants. She really liked a recent one on finances and budgeting.
“No one ever taught me that before!”
Shlonda is doing well in those areas, Christine said. She is saving money and she pays her rent and all her other expenses on time.
Christine sees Shlonda receiving her bachelor’s degree in social work and finding a job in a field that will make her happy.
“Now she’s driven, and before she wasn’t.”
Looking back on her past, Shlonda said she didn’t want to be “lazy, sitting around and doing nothing.
“I opened me eyes and asked myself whether I want to be something or nothing. I chose this path.”
She credits SaintA, “the whole facility, but mostly Christine. She motivated me and made sure I do what I need to do.
“She’s helped me to be a better person. And just knowing someone’s here to support me, to give me a pat on the back and acknowledge the goals I’m trying to achieve for myself means everything.”