16 Feb Black History Month: Spotlighting Our Community Impact
As we celebrate Black History Month, CHRIS 180 is honored to spotlight the work of some of our team members and their reflections on the trauma-informed care they provide in their own communities. Our team remains committed to providing the children, youth and families we serve with support that shows they are experts on their own lives.
Helen Yohannes is the Program Manager of CHRIS 180’s YouthBuild 180, a program that provides youth ages 16-24 with education and vocational training for careers in construction. “I predominately work with young Black men going through some very real challenges who are often not in a place where they can openly talk about their sadness and depression. People’s perspectives of them can be limited and stereotypical, but working in my community means seeing the joy, beauty and gifts of the people that live there and not just their trauma and the limitations placed on them,” shared Yohannes. She enjoys seeing the transformation that takes place when the youth work on construction sites in their own communities: “They’re giving back to the communities they’re from and they see their neighborhood in a new light. It gives them a sense of purpose and belonging—that they got support from CHRIS 180 and now can give back. Seeing them on the journey of starting to love themselves and gain confidence is so rewarding.”
Les Canty, Westside Outreach Coordinator, lives in the same community where he performs well-checks, delivers food, works with youth and neighbors and assists people experiencing homelessness. He shared, “It’s very important to have someone who knows the neighborhood and can speak to their experiences with first-hand knowledge.” When asked how he works to build and maintain trust, Les said, “Whatever we say we’re going to do, we do it. We listen to what they need, and we keep our promises. Through time and effort, families started opening up about their needs. They saw how much we really cared about their kids and how much they benefit from working with CHRIS 180. We were willing to work with kids that no one else would work with, that systems had thrown out. And we see a big difference in them.” Above all, he said, “I love doing this work. It’s a privilege to help the kids in the community, to take them on hikes and expose them to new experiences. I don’t feel like I’m working, I feel like I’m giving.”
Jessica Cooke, MSW is a therapist on CHRIS 180’s School-Based Mental Health team providing counseling and support to students and their parents. “I love working with families. In the Black community, there is so much stigma around therapy and mental health, so I work hard to build relationships. I check in with kids’ families every other week. I want to show them I’m not just there for the child, I’m there for them too. I offer family sessions to help break through the stigma and make sure that they have the resources and tools they need.” Reflecting on one family, Cooke shared, “A mom whose son I was working with asked about how to get her older daughter into therapy because she had been crying every day and talking about suicide. When I told her that I could provide therapy to her daughter too, mom sobbed in relief. To be able to take care of one thing for her, to let her know that I’ve got her, felt so good. Helping more than just the kids is a part of the job and reaching these families to offer support is so important.”
At CHRIS 180, we understand the importance of providing every person we serve with support teams who understand and validate their experiences and who they are. We are so grateful to have committed staff like Helen, Les and Jessica making a difference in their communities every day!
To learn more about CHRIS 180’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, visit CHRIS180.org/DEI.
Norma Nyhoff is the Annual Giving and Stewardship Manager at CHRIS 180.