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My Block, My Hood, My City Is Combining Social Justice with Service Learning

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Most youth have never traveled outside their own block or neighborhood. As a result, their worldviews are geographically bound and constricted by their neighborhoods. For youth who do not travel outside their neighborhood boundaries, their well-being, sense of self-efficacy, and educational and economic outcomes depend almost entirely on the neighborhood’s infrastructure, socio-economic, and resource characteristics. This truth poses limitations to opportunities for most.

If youth are to have a fair chance at having fulfilling and independent lives, that inequality must be revised. As a society how can we make the difference?  How can we open the door for the youth who seem to bound to their neighborhood?

My Block My Hood My City (M3) is an organization whose  mission is to educate, empower and engage youth from low-income and moderate income communities of Chicago to work together to advocate for social, economic and educational justice and become agents for positive change. The considerable limitations of being restricted to neighborhood boundaries cause countless missed opportunities for youth that live in the Chicago area. M3 began mentoring workshops and monthly community presentations as a way to expose youth to the city that existed beyond their neighborhoods.  The My Block, My Hood My City Explorers program, serves as the key vessel to empower young people and build appreciation for community diversity.

My Block My Hood My City’s purpose is to expose youth to their impact within their communities and communities beyond.  Because of this program youth have more information to make everyday decisions about who they are in society and what they can contribute to it. M3 inspires and prepares youth for their equitable role as active, engaged, and self-determined citizens. M3’s primary purpose is to broaden the often severely limited perspective and opportunities of teenagers living in underserved communities. M3 believes that exposing youth to experiences of economic opportunity, cultural diversity, community networks, and community-based services bolsters positive youth development.

M3 accelerates youth awareness of communities by providing insight into careers, jobs, lifestyles, cultures, and opportunities that they never have experienced. This is a vital door that not only removes them from what they’ve always known- poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunities- but it gives them a firsthand view of a world vastly different than their own and challenges them to rethink the impactful power they have in improving their community. By witnessing the positive activities and spaces in their own communities, as well as those they visit, the youth are armed with information to dispel the negative images and stereotypes that they are bombarded with daily. This helps develop a sense of pride and respect for what is valuable and the assets that exist in their neighborhoods.

To enhance their program My Block, My Hood, My City has now taken awareness and exposure to a new level by adding a service learning component. Experience has taught them that youth are seeking not only further exposure to networks and opportunities outside their community but also opportunities to make their community a better place to live.

M3 has recently adopted a service learning program component to the organization called Service Learning Exchange (SLE). Aligned with the Explorer program’s focus on connection and exploration, SLE utilizes video technology to connect youth to their peer network across the city, empowering and mobilizing youth to actively engage in discussions of community issues and their responsibility towards them. SLE provides months of online discussions and planning.  Afterwards the youth are then given the opportunity to travel to their peers’ communities to assist them in implementing service projects that positively impact those communities.

M3 is taking the proper steps to enrich the youth of Chicago by developing their culture through physical and vital connections. Community transformation efforts cannot be successful unless the members of those communities are involved in setting the agenda for change.  Social change cannot happen without youth engagement or awareness.

Youth expand their awareness of their geographical surroundings and opportunities by learning the history of their own and other communities, by understanding the current issues those communities face, and by participating in the experience outings,. As a result of their increased community engagement, youth feel more connected to their communities and city creating much needed social change.

Arasha Reece received a B.S in Psychology from Troy University and is currently attending University of Southern California to receive her Master in Social Work with a concentration in Community Organization, Planning and Administration (COPA). With a sub-concentration is Military Social Work.

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Child Welfare

Head Start May Protect Against Foster Care Placement

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Participating in Head Start may help prevent young children from being placed in foster care, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education, said Sacha Klein, MSU assistant professor of social work.

Klein and colleagues examined multiple forms of early care and education – from daycare with a family member to more structured programs – and found Head Start was the only one to guard against foster care placement.

“The findings seem to add to what we already know about the benefits of Head Start,” Klein said. “This new evidence suggests Head Start not only helps kids develop and allows parents to go to work, but it may also help at-risk kids from ending up in the foster care system.”

Klein and colleagues studied the national survey data of nearly 2,000 families in which a child had entered the child welfare system for suspicion of abuse or neglect. Those children were either pulled from the home or were being overseen by a caseworker.

Klein said Head Start may protect against foster care because of its focus on the entire family. Services go beyond providing preschool education to include supporting parental goals such as housing stability, continued education and financial security.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, about a third of them under the age of 5, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All children in foster care automatically qualify for free Head Start services, regardless of income level.

Klein said the findings suggest policymakers should consider making all children in the child welfare system, including those living at home, automatically eligible for Head Start. That could help prevent more kids from ending up in foster care.

While foster care can be a vital resource for protecting children from abusive and neglectful parents, it is rarely a panacea for young kids, the study notes.

“Indeed, young children who are placed in foster care often have compromised socio-emotional, language and cognitive development and poor early academic and health outcomes,” the authors write. “Trauma and deprivation experienced before removal may largely drive these developmental deficits, but foster care often fails to alleviate them and sometimes can worsen them.”

Klein’s co-authors are Lauren Fries of MSU and Mary Emmons of Children’s Institute Inc. in Los Angeles.

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Human Rights

Rescuing Sex Trafficking Victims

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Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. – Founder of Children of the Night Photo Credit: CalState

Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. wandering the streets and alleys of Los Angeles at 3 a.m.; she even did so while pregnant with her son.

Dr. Lee was looking for victims of sex trafficking and those who exploited them.

Walking miles along Sunset, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevards, the then-24-year-old would hand out business cards with her hotline number, encouraging victims to call and letting them know what kind of help they’d find.

“These are girls, boys and transgender children that would fall between the cracks of the system,” remembers Lee. “They had nowhere to go — no one was providing a bed or a school or offering to take care of these kids.”

So, she created that place.

From 1979 to 1981, Lee housed more than 250 sex trafficking victims in her own home, all while building the Children of the Night outreach program; the privately funded nonprofit organization would become unlike any other in existence at the time, or even today, rescuing children from child prostitution and providing housing, education and treatment.

But perhaps most important, Lee gave them hope.

An Unimaginable Life

Lee was raised in Los Angeles, the eldest child in a family of three girls. It was a childhood she describes as healthy, safe and sheltered.

So when, as a graduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, her faculty mentor Jeanne Curran, PhD., then a professor of sociology, introduced her to the underworld of sex trafficking, it was a wake-up call.

“I wanted to make everything better because I just couldn’t imagine someone living in these types of conditions,” explains Lee, who graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science in 1973 and a master’s in sociology in 1977.

It was at CSUDH that she developed the skills she’d later use to address child sex trafficking. Lee also taught courses at the campus’s Social Systems Research Center, then led by Dr. Curran. The center has since been renamed the Urban Community Research Center.

“Jeanne became a mentor for me, both on- and off-campus. She influenced my life and academic choices so much,” says Lee, a first-generation college student.

“She and CSU Dominguez Hills empowered me.”

Victims, Not Criminals

Late one night in 1977, Lee received a call from a woman who operated an escort service. A 17-year-old she worked with had not returned and she was unable to contact her.

Afraid, she had called Lee for guidance. Lee went to the police, who dismissed the call and refused to help. The next morning, the girl’s body was found; she had become one of the Hillside Stranglers’victims.

Frustrated by the lack of resources that were available to these girls, Lee appeared on an L.A. news broadcast, giving out her personal phone number and encouraging prostitutes with knowledge of the case to reach out to her directly. She promised confidentiality.

“I coordinated everything just as I had learned from Jeanne at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee recalls. “And that was really the beginning of my work.”

Lee would go on to play a critical role in the Hillside Strangler trial, testifying in the case and coordinating witnesses for the prosecution.

At just 27, Lee garnered attention when she sued the Los Angeles Police Department for prosecuting underage prostitutes while letting their customers go free.

She won the case and has gone on to file a number of other lawsuits.

“I taught vice detectives nationwide that there were children prostituting and they needed to be treated differently,” says the President’s Volunteer Action Award recipient. She strongly advocated – and still does – to have the children referred to and treated as victims, not criminals.

Education: The Key to Success

To date, Children of the Night’s president and founder is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.

The organization’s shelter, located in Van Nuys, California, offers no-cost housing for as many as 12 children ages 11 to 17. They attend classes at the on-site school, receive individualized treatment, and participate in fun outings. A nationwide toll-free hotline is also staffed 24/7.

Lee sees education as the most fundamental of the services they offer, and attendance is mandatory for all residents.

“What’s really important about the development of any society is to educate the people,” she explains. “Through education, I was able to learn about the world. Education empowers.”

While children are offered treatment to manage trauma, their past experiences are not the focus, Lee stresses. “I don’t feel sorry for the children with whom I work,” she says. “[That] incapacitates their ability to become strong and independent. I want the world for my kids. I have very high expectations of them.”

Which is not to say she isn’t deeply empathetic to what they’ve faced.

“There is no way that I can make what happened to them go away, but I can … put distance between their old lifestyle and their life now.”

Still Fighting

Today, Lee is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in rescuing child sex trafficking victims, raising awareness on a topic that previously wasn’t talked about. In 1981, the General Accounting Office estimated there were 600,000 children under the age of 16 working as prostitutes in the United States. Today, that number is estimated to be 100,000.

In January 2017, Children of the Night announced a new global initiative to rescue 10,000 more children worldwide from sex trafficking.

Lee is also passionate about giving back to the campus that helped turn her dream into an advocacy mission that has no doubt saved thousands of lives.

“So much of what I have done and have been able to do in my life is because of my time at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee says. “The faculty raised me and nourished me. They liked to take risks and they challenged traditional thinking processes. “Dominguez Hills taught me how to break down barriers.”

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LGBTQ

It’s National Coming Out Day

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Today is National Coming Out Day which is a day of raising awareness and destigmatization for the LGBTQ community.

Texting is the preferred method of communication for young people.

Proof you have great friends who also will throw you a party.

Great Advice, don’t feel pressured to do anything or be afraid to show your true self…Write your own story!

Happy Coming Out Day!

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