“Children within urban communities similar to ours often face Adverse Childhood Experiences such as growing up with a parent who deals with mental health issues or drug abuse, experiencing domestic violence in the home, and/or experiencing violence within their community.”
Halimah Herbert, New-Ark Leader of Health
During the summer of 2019, our New-Ark Leaders of Health team decided to focus our work on mental health and trauma, and their impact on our community, particularly the South Ward of Newark. In addition to writing a book on trauma, we served as neighborhood allies with the South Ward Children’s Alliance (SWCA), an organization dedicated to coordinating services and resources to improve the overall health and lives of families in the South Ward. As South Ward Neighborhood Youth Allies, we worked to inform our peers about the various services that are available through the Promise Neighborhoods program at the South Ward Children’s Alliance.
Read more about the Promise Neighborhoods program on the U.S. Department of Education web site.
In addition, we assisted with community outreach to connect new families to the SWCA Family HUB and worked to address blight by revitalizing vacant lots. Most of the New-Ark Leaders of Health either live in the South Ward or attend school there, so this work was important to us.
As a result of our partnership with SWCA, some of our team members participated in a grief counseling training presented by Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, which is a New Jersey-based grief support center for children ages three to 18, and families dealing with the death or life-altering illness of a parent, sibling or child. My fellow New-Ark Leaders of Health, Aijane Smith and Kutorkor Kotey, and I have since served as certified peer group facilitators with the Imagine – Newark team.
Every two weeks, Imagine hosts free grief support services to those who have lost a loved one or whose loved one is facing a life-altering illness. From our work around mental health and trauma, we understood these services are particularly important for our community. Children within urban communities similar to ours often face Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as growing up with a parent who deals with mental health issues or drug abuse, experiencing domestic violence in the home, and/or experiencing violence within their community. We learned about Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, and its approach to mitigate the impact of trauma through their grief support services. This is important for Newark because instead of harboring feelings of grief and hurt, youth are able to experience comfort and long-term healing for themselves and their families.
I am so grateful that the New-Ark Leaders of Health have been given the opportunity to be a part of hope and healing in our city, through joining the Imagine team as peer group facilitators. At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, we joined other teens from around the city to participate in the Teen Facilitator certification class. Throughout the five hours of training, we discussed how we process our own emotions as teenagers. In addition, we learned various methods of consoling people based on the way they are grieving, and how we must conduct ourselves as representatives of Imagine and the rules we must follow.
Shortly after our certification class, we participated in our first “Night of Support” as Imagine volunteers. The first night, I was assigned the role of a Greeter. When the families arrived, my responsibility was to greet them and usher them to the meeting space before the group started. This night, in particular, was one of my most memorable times volunteering. As a greeter, I got to interact with everyone, including the adults. My role gave me an insider perspective on Imagine’s process of supporting families. I enjoyed my job as a Greeter and then I became a Teen Facilitator. The role of a Teen Facilitator is to assist the Adult Facilitators with the children’s support groups. The next week, I was assigned to my own group, color-coded as the purple group, which indicated the children are between three and five years old. While we were told exactly what to expect in training, I was still afraid because I had never experienced leading a peer group. However, as soon as I tried, I realized how much I loved engaging with the younger children. Coming into Imagine, I thought the children would behave or express themselves differently than other children because of what they may have experienced. I quickly realized that I was wrong! Most of the children are full of energy, while some are shy, but that is okay.
Another reason I was hesitant about becoming a Teen Facilitator was because I had just begun my senior year of high school. I was unsure how I would juggle being a senior, maintaining a personal life, and helping to facilitate children experiencing emotional trauma, but Imagine hasn’t given us more than we can handle. As Teen Facilitators, Aijane, Kutorkor and I can always tell the Imagine staff if we notice any issues. In fact, they expect us to speak openly with them. After every Night of Support, all facilitators come together in a post-group session to discuss what we’ve experienced in our individual groups. If any of us are experiencing anything personal, we can share this during that conversation.
All in all, I have enjoyed my time at Imagine. My time there forced me to get out of my comfort zone when it comes to interacting with people. I typically interact with teenagers and adults in ways where I am not always emotionally available to others. I personally look forward to returning to Imagine as a way of giving back to my community.