Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Troubled youth mentored by RU Psychology students

Inspiration, hope for the future, and much-needed interactions were provided for boys and girls on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network in Chicago.

Located at 3730 North California Ave., UCAN provides residential housing for troubled youths who have faced physical or sexual abuse, have been neglected by parents or face mental illness. Youth can reside at the facility up until age 19 and in some cases until they’re 21 years old, according to UCAN officials.

“UCAN strives to build strong youth and families through compassionate healing, education and empowerment,” according to its website.

An Affirmative statement is given for each week’s mentoring session. This week’s statement was:
“I truly believe that my haters are my motivators because they wish they were me but can’t be” - Nicki Minaj

The program, BoutIt, stands for Bringing Out Unity  Through Interactive Transition. The course, ACP 250, is cross-listed with a psychology course titled “Youth Violence Intervention and Theory.”
Approximately 35 mentors and their mentees sat down together on Wednesday to discuss how the day went and if any issues came up before starting the session’s activities.

Dr. Melissa Sisco, the Roosevelt professor who teaches the course, has 15 years of experience in dealing with at-risk youth and has mentored imprisoned youth for four years. Sisco provided the student mentors with a rundown of what the activities would be for the day.

Sisco said that it took students from business and psychology majors to put this program together and she is thankful for the transformations she has witnessed in the past six weeks. Spencer Scott and Carlo Villarosa are students who led the boys’ and girls’ sides of the room, respectively.

Sisco said young people like Darnell Owens, Spencer Scott, Chase Zvonek and Carlo Villarosa helped to create the foundation for the BoutIt mentorship program and truly bring it to life.  And they all bring different types of expertise with undergraduate backgrounds in  business, education, accounting, and psychology.

”We found a way to allow RU students to learn about violence through critical thinking and comparisons of research and real world topics,” Sisco said, “and to learn problem solving, making goals, and creating change through practicing it.”

Pamela Wilson, UCAN’s residential therapeutic recreation coordinator, said the most common issue with these kids is having trouble in school and not following the program in terms of treatment plans. Treatment plans refer to taking medication and participating in therapy sessions. There are 62 boys and girls aged 12 to 17 who are currently housed at UCAN.

“We’ll take a kid who has poor social skills, struggling psychologically, struggling educationally, and struggling behavior wise, and we design a treatment plan for them,” Wilson said.

“It is hard to chart the progress because we have a wide range of kids with a wide range of issues,” she said.

Spencer Scott and Brenda Lara, who led the girls’ mentoring, agreed that the girls open up more easily and are more laid back than the boys. Even though Scott is the only boy on the girls’ side, he lets Lara do most of the leading.

“I don’t do any of the actual leading because I thought it was important that it’s very female led for the females,” Scott said.

Scott and Lara said that support is provided for the girls during activities every Wednesday and that the girls have opened up to the student mentors.

Leading the boys’ side are Darnell Owens and Carlo Villarosa. They said the boys have a harder time opening up and are separated from the girls  because, often times, they will try to impress members of the opposite gender.

“Boys are rambunctious, and they just like to be actively doing something; and talking isn’t actively doing something,” said Villarosa.

“I wouldn’t say a bad experience, but a little challenging because we have a few children with behavioral problems and special needs,” said Owens, when asked about his experiences in the program thus far.

Some lessons Owens said he would like to pass on to the boys are, “You can’t change the past, but you can change the future,” and we are “empowering our students to be a difference in young people’s lives.”

Villarosa and Owens both said that mentoring these boys has not only changed the youth for the better but also created created a positive change for classmates as well. They both described BoutIt as a “dual-learning experience.”

For more information about this transformational program, please contact Dr. Melissa Sisco at (520) 977-6485 or msisco01@roosevelt.edu.

From the Roosevelt University Torch (10/29/2012)

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