In this installment of the DCFYI Digest, we sat down with Michelle to discuss how DCFYI creates a caring community of support for teens.
DCFYI: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Michelle: I'm originally from the Jersey Shore. I came to Washington, D.C. to attend college at American University, where I got my degree in criminal justice, and I've been in the District of Columbia ever since then. I work for the Pretrial Services Agency, which is a criminal justice agency that deals with anyone who's arrested in the District of Columbia. Once they're released under pretrial supervision, my agency supervises those individuals while they're on release, while their case is pending, until they are adjudicated. I've been with them for 30 plus years. I've done all aspects of criminal justice. I'm a certified addictions counselor, I'm trained in national natural control tactics, which is basically self-defense. I've been a supervisor of a program that I designed which dealt with those in the District of Columbia who were charged with dangerous and violent crimes and supervised them. I’ve run electronic monitoring units with GPS. Right now, I am looking to retire in probably two to three years.
DCFYI: How did you find out about DCFYI?
Michelle: I'm involved in different organizations in my community. I've been involved in the Hillcrest Community Civic Association. I was chairman of the fundraising committee and I was the vice president for about seven years. During that time, we used to have an event called Hillcrest Day where we would invite community organizations to come and provide information on their organization. One of our neighbors was a volunteer for DCFYI and asked if they could have a table. I said, sure, so they came, and they had a table. I went over, and I was talking to my neighbor who was a volunteer. She invited my husband and I to their annual fundraiser and we attended. We had a great time. We bid on things in the silent auction, we got to meet some of the children that were in the program, and we just became interested in being involved. I progressed into applying to be a mentor, so I went through all the training, all the classes, all the background checks and everything else, and I was approved to be a mentor right before the pandemic hit.
DCFYI: What kind of events have you been to with DCFYI?
Michelle: So, the pandemic hit, which of course didn't allow us to do any in-person events, but previously we were able to attend a couple of events, and we got to interact with different young adults. I've been involved with the organization since about 2018. I continue to volunteer with whatever it is that Susan wants me to do. I host an event at my house every year out in my backyard, we have a big cookout. I set up a big tent and play games, and I have that every July. The young adults come, other volunteers come, and everybody participates. I attend the regular events that they have monthly. I'm there if there's someone who chooses to connect with me and be a mentor or otherwise. I volunteer and I interact with the kids because I like that. My husband, he's involved to the point where he comes along to every event and he's a driver. He’s authorized to drive, and we usually pick up different kids who live around our neighborhood and bring them to the events. That’s a good way to get to know them individually. There’s some that regularly look for us to pick them up for events. I also attend the fundraisers every year and I bring different people to the organization and to the fundraiser so that they can see. I think some of them have volunteered to participate in the new Open Table program that DCFYI has started.
DCFYI: What about the organization and its work excites you?
Michelle: I wasn't that familiar with the population of aging out. Having raised three sons essentially through their teenage years, I was never really interested in younger kids. I was more interested in older kids because I used to be a drug addiction counselor for adolescents out in Montgomery County. I saw the different issues that they would go through. What I recognized when I was doing that was, it was all about the support that they were getting from the parents being able to connect with them. Understanding that there are people who have regular people in their lives and then there’s this population that doesn’t. What is it that they do, how did they survive? Where are the skills coming from? Where are the things that they need to learn to actually develop as adults? Unfortunately, nowadays it's from social media and from the wrong people showing them different things. That’s where I became really interested and I saw that DCFYI was providing that kind of stability by pairing young adults with mentors. Just the fact of getting them together in safe areas, safe events, things like that. I like the way that they do it because I could see how much somebody who's now 20-22, if they did not get the foundation, they really need the support now and to be led in the right direction. I don't know any other programs that provide that for those young adults. That's what really keeps me interested in seeing them progress and learning and seeing the things they do want to learn. That’s why I like the new Open Table concept where they're working with one individual on a goal, and you bring in different people who have different skills and different abilities and different assets that can help them and lead them in the right direction. So that's what I like about the program itself.
DCFYI: Can you talk about some of the unique skills that you have brought to DCFYI?
Michelle: I think the ways that I was able to contribute was my network. My network is diverse. In working in my community, I come across people with individual skills that you don't even know that they have. Maybe there's a notary or there's somebody who has some legal background. Once you get to know and talk to them, they have abilities and skills that they can lend to a younger person. I'm associated with being in the Hillcrest community as well. They're all ages, people in their 70’s and into their 30’s and getting to know their skills and abilities and saying, you're a notary, can you help me out with this, or you have some legal background can you help me out with this? Some of the older retired individuals who've had government careers, they have skills that they could provide. Those are the people that I've kind of sent the information out about the Open Table because I think that they can bring that type of experience to DCFYI. My experience in working with adolescents helps me to talk to and connect with the different young adults in the program right now.
DCFYI: What were you expecting when you first heard about DCFYI?
Michelle: What I expected was that you were going to have a group of young adults who just wanted you to provide them with something monetarily, some things like I need a TV, or I need this. I thought that that's what it was going to be more about. As I attended more events, and got to meet more of them, it wasn't that type of connection they were looking for. They were really looking for the parent, the guidance, the accountability that someone can provide to them. The development, their strategic thinking, things like that. That's what I learned after attending more of the events and getting to know the adolescents and young adults. I could see where they were lacking in those areas and that they really needed that help because I couldn't imagine, you're in a foster home and then you hit 21 and it's just like, okay, bye. Where do you go? What do you do? I haven't learned to save money, open a bank account, look for an apartment. I don't know any of that stuff or even get a job. Some of them have never worked before. That changed my opinion drastically about who these individuals were and what they needed.
DCFYI: How would you describe the work that DCFYI does to your best friend?
Michelle: It's the simple point that foster youth need this interaction because we may not even understand what it's like living in their foster home. Their foster home could be a place where the individual's just providing them with a room and a place to stay, and they're not interacting with them. We think that if you have a foster home that you're trying to be a parent to them and that's not the case for all these young adults. For them to just get out one day and have a sense of peace and be around people who are being positive and who want to listen to them, this is what they need. I tell them, you don't have to sign up to be a mentor. You can just show up to talk to these individuals. You may develop into wanting to do that because that's how it started for me. I just wanted to volunteer, but when I thought about it, maybe I will move forward in the mentoring process, and if there's someone who wants to attach themselves to me, then I'll be there for them. We see through the media the tragedy that our young people are going through right now. We keep saying that they didn't get the same type of things that we got when we were growing up. Well, who else is going to give it to them but us? So put your money where your mouth is. Stop saying all the talk and do something about it. So, this is how I feel I can help in some way.