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




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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Study Suggests Why Food Assistance for Homeless Young Adults is Inadequate



Though young homeless adults make use of available food programs, these support structures still often fail to provide reliable and consistent access to nutritious food, according to the results of a new study by a University at Buffalo social work researcher.

The findings, which fill an important gap in the research literature, can help refine policies and programs to better serve people experiencing homelessness, particularly those between the ages of 18-24.

“It may be tempting to think of food pantries, soup kitchens and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as the solution,” says Elizabeth Bowen, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Social Work and lead author of the study with Andrew Irish, a UB graduate student in the School of Social Work, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. But these supports are not enough. “We’re still seeing high levels of food insecurity, literal hunger, where people go a whole day without eating anything.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” Hunger is a “potential consequence of food insecurity [that] results in discomfort, illness, weakness or pain.” In Bowen’s study, 80 percent of participants were considered to be severely food insecure.

“There has been recent research about housing and shelter use for homeless young adults, as well as work on drug use and sexual risk behaviors for this same population, but I found that not much had been done on the issue of food access,” says Bowen. “It’s hard to even think about housing and health needs if we don’t know how people are eating, or not eating.”

It’s not surprising see a relationship between homelessness and food insecurity, but Bowen warns of oversimplifying what is in fact a more nuanced problem.

“This research is important because we’re establishing a clear indication of food insecurity in this population, which we did not previously have,” she says. “If we’re going to design programs and services that better address food insecurity, along with addressing housing, education and employment, we need to know about the access strategies: How and what are homeless young adults eating? Where are they finding food? What do they have to do to get it? And how does that affect other parts of their lives?”

For her qualitative study, Bowen conducted in-depth interviews with 30 young adults between the ages of 18-24 who were experiencing homelessness in Buffalo, New York.

“Working with this small group gives us insights into the lived experience,” says Bowen. “It’s a way of setting a knowledge foundation and understanding of the topic in the context of people’s lives, and what goes on with their health, housing, relationships, education and trying to get out of homelessness.”

In Bowen’s study, 70 percent of young adults were receiving SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. But actually getting these benefits can be difficult.

SNAP covers dependent children under their parent’s benefits until the child’s 22nd birthday. But the program administers benefits based on the parents’ address and assumes that parents and children of a single family are living together.

“This is clearly a problem for young people experiencing homelessness since many of them are under 22 and obviously aren’t living at the same address as their parents,” says Bowen. “The young people in this case can’t get SNAP on their own because they’re already listed on their parents’ open application for those same benefits – and the burden of proof is on the young person to demonstrate they don’t live with their parents.”

Documentation is required as proof that the family is no longer together, according to Bowen, but in many cases getting the necessary paperwork is difficult because of strained family relationships.

“That’s one avenue for a policy change,” says Bowen.

But even with revised eligibility guidelines, food stamps sometimes are not enough, particularly for homeless young people who have no way to store or prepare food. Bowen notes that this problem would be greatly exacerbated by a change proposed in the 2019 federal budget to convert part of a household’s SNAP benefits from electronic benefits to a box of canned goods and other commodities.

Homeless young adults’ food access challenges are further compounded by the fact that young people are sometimes reluctant to use resources like soup kitchens, or have trouble accessing these places due to transportation barriers and limited hours. This finding mirrors prior research showing how young adults are not comfortable in places meant for the general homeless adult population, according to Bowen.

For instance, where shelter is concerned, an 18-year-old in the city of Buffalo is considered an adult and would go to an adult shelter, which can feel discouraging and unsafe.

“What I found in this study is that people were saying the same things about places to get food. They know about these soup kitchens, but the places feel institutional and stigmatized to young people,” says Bowen. “If we want to develop food programs to be engaging to young people we have to think about breaking down some barriers. For example, because of food insecurity among students, many college campuses are now offering food pantries. I would like to think about how to integrate food pantries and other services into places where young people are going anyway.”

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Rep. Bass Introduces Legislation To Ensure Former Foster Youth Can Keep Health Insurance In Other States



Recently, Rep, Karen Bass (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced the Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act, a bill that addresses a misinterpretation of the health care law by providing foster youth with the same health insurance benefits as their peers.

The current health insurance system is one of the many disproportionate challenges that our nation’s foster youth face. With the Affordable Care Act, foster youth who are in care by their 18th birthday and previously enrolled in Medicaid are able to receive healthcare until the age of 26, much like their peers who can remain on their parents’ insurance plans until that age. However, after several years of requested clarification, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services misinterpreted the provision and restricted foster youth from receiving health insurance if they move out of their state.

Foster youth face incredible adversities throughout their lives, many of which begin after they turn 18 and grow out of the child welfare system,” Rep. Bass said. “I’m proud of this body’s resolve to address this issue and fix this incredibly harmful misinterpretation. Especially as we address the opioid epidemic, we must consider the importance of coverage for this vulnerable population.”

The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act is particularly important to ensure that foster youth maintain uninterrupted access to health insurance. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 35 and 60 percent of youth who enter foster care have at least one chronic or acute health condition such as asthma, cognitive differences, visual and auditory challenges, dental decay, and malnutrition that require long-term treatment, and 50 to 75 percent of foster youth exhibit behavioral or social competency issues that may require mental health treatment. In 2013, nearly 50,000 youth between the ages of 16-20 exited the foster care system.

The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act is a bicameral bill that will provide health insurance to foster youth in any state until age 26, as is the law for their peers that did not grow up in the child welfare system.

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Ending Gender-Based Violence in Conflict



On this International Women’s Day, let’s applaud the advances made in the fight against gender-based violence this year, but also look to the work that still needs to be done.

The #metoo movement saw powerful men held accountable for a range of predatory behavior against women and girls. US states have been finally addressing the issue of child marriage. The Women’s March saw people from around the world gathering once again to advocate for women’s issues. Survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also spoke out and said #metoo.

There is no denying the strides that have been made.

Yet, the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that 35% of women will face physical abuse during their lifetime. Furthermore, gender-based violence continues to be a common tool used to terrorize populations during conflict.

A poignant example of this is of the pervasive use of gender-based violence against the Rohingya women fleeing Burma. Rape has been used systematically by the Burmese military against these women, including children and older women. In addition to facing this violence, these women lack basic post-rape medical care after arriving in camps in Bangladesh.

Another recent example of gender-based violence in conflict is that of the Yazidi women who were kidnapped, raped and sold into sexual slavery by ISIS. One brave survivor, Nadia Murad, has spoken throughout the world to raise awareness of the genocide committed against the Yazidi people and to ask for justice.

Even in refugee camps, where women flee to in search of safety, there is exploitation of women. Syrian women have reportedly been forced to trade sex for food aid. The problem has gotten so bad that the women will no longer go to get food. Sadly, sexual exploitation of refugees in conflict zones by aid officials has happened in other crises as well including a vast human trafficking network during the conflict in Bosnia.

Perpetrators of gender-based violence during wartime are not only those in power but often include civilians, as has been documented in the Democratic Republic of Congo—pointing to the pervasiveness of the problem.

With the call for accountability for crimes against women, let this be the “Time’s Up” on gender-based violence committed during war. Ms. Murad and her lawyer Amal Clooney are advocating for evidence to be collected and brought to the International Criminal Court in the case against ISIS–one step toward holding perpetrators accountable.

Murad states, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine”. Let us channel the fire that brought about these movements to fight back against exploitation of women, especially the women facing the unimaginable difficulties of war.

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Human Services

Is Counseling For You



Have you been in counseling or therapy? If not, have you ever hesitated in seeing a counselor, or wondered why you felt so wary? Studies show about 20-35% of Americans having attended some form of counseling and psychotherapy compared to approximately 80% of mental health professionals.

Believing that counseling and psychotherapy could be helpful for anyone in alleviating problems, improving relationships, and developing a more positive outlook toward life, a Journal for Human Services research study explores why some people attend counseling or therapy while others do not.

Researchers, Ed Neukrug, Mike Kalkbrenner, and Sandy Griffith wondered why it was that some people seemed readily to attend counseling while others hesitate or who don’t attend often to their own detriment. Their research on attendance in counseling of helping professionals and their upcoming research on attendance in counseling of the public in general offers a thoughtful analysis which will hopefully shed some light on this important concern.

After an exhaustive review of the literature, researchers independently looked at over 60 potential barriers to attendance in counseling and eventually reduced this number down to 32 specific items. Their research found three broad areas or reasons likely to affect individuals who tend to avoid counseling and therapy. They identified these areas as “Fit,” “Stigma,” and “Value” to reflect the areas they represent.

Factor 1: Fit

Fit has to do with one’s sense of comfort with being in counseling and whether one has the ability to trust the process of counseling will be beneficial. Some typical fit questions were related to whether a potential client believed a counselor would feel comfortable with the potential client’s sexuality, disability, or other aspects of the client’s identity. Other questions in this area assessed whether a potential client believed a counselor could understand him or her, was competent enough to deal with the client’s problem and could keep the client’s concerns confidential. In addition, other “fit” questions queried whether potential clients had a bad experience with a counselor in the past and if they thought they could find a counselor near to where they lived

Factor 2: Stigma

Stigma is the feeling of shame or embarrassment some people experience when they consider entering a counseling relationship. Some of the stigma questions highlighted whether a potential client believed their friends, family, peers, colleagues, or supervisors might view them negatively if they knew the individual was in counseling. Other questions focused on how some potential clients might consider themselves weak, embarrassed, or unstable if they were in counseling. Often, those with high scores on stigma believed others would judge them, and thus, they would feel badly if they were to enter counseling.

Factor 3: Value

Value is the perceived benefit or worth one believes he or she is receiving from attendance in counseling. Potential clients who would score high in this area often believed the financial cost of counseling was not worth its benefits. Participants in this category simply could not afford counseling or they didn’t have time for it. Many participants in this category believed counseling wasn’t necessary because problems usually resolve on their own, or that counseling was simply not an effective use of their time. These individuals simply did not embrace the counseling process because the financial costs in their mind are hard to justify over meeting basic needs and/or having to take time off from work.

Although some individuals cannot find a counselor to their liking, participants worried whether counseling would be worthwhile, or they were ashamed or embarrassed about going to counseling. Most people believe that when faced with difficult life problems, counseling could be helpful.

It is hoped through research like this, people can better understand why they might be hesitant to seek a counselor and  maybe overcome some of their fears. Additionally, this research can help national organizations, in the helping fields, find ways to help clients overcome these barriers.

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Civic Engagement Can Help Teens Thrive Later in Life



Want to help your teenagers become successful adults? Get them involved in civic activities – voting, volunteering and activism.

Although parents providing this bit of advice to teens will likely be met with groans and eye rolling, research does back it up.

In a study published in the current issue of the journal Child Development, scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that teens who were engaged in civic activities were more likely than non-engaged peers to attain higher income and education levels as adults.

“We know from past research that taking part in civic activities can help people feel more connected to others and help build stronger communities, but we wanted to know if civic engagement in adolescence could enhance people’s health, education level and income as they become adults,” said Parissa J. Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study.

Ballard and her team used a nationally representative sample of 9,471 adolescents and young adults from an ongoing study called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants were between the ages of 18 to 27 when civic engagement was measured, and then six years later outcomes – health, education and income – were measured.

The research team used propensity score matching, a statistically rigorous methodology to examine how civic engagement related to later outcomes regardless of participants’ background characteristics, including levels of health and parental education. For example, adolescents who volunteered were matched to adolescents from similar backgrounds who did not volunteer to compare their health, education and income as adults.

“Relative to other common approaches used in this kind of research, this method lets us have greater confidence that civic engagement really is affecting later life health and education,” Ballard said.

The research team found that volunteering and voting also were favorably associated with subsequent mental health and health behaviors, such as a fewer symptoms of depression and lower risk for negative health behaviors including substance use.

For teens who were involved in activism the findings were more complex. Although they too had a much greater chance of obtaining a higher level of education and personal income, they also were involved in more risky behaviors six years later, Ballard said.

“In this study, we couldn’t determine why that was the case, but I think activism can be frustrating for teens and young adults because they are at a stage in life where they are more idealistic and impatient with the slow pace of social change,” Ballard said. “I would encourage parents to help their children remain passionate about their cause but also learn to manage expectations as to short- and long-term goals.”

This research was supported in part by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a cooperative agreement for the Adolescent and Young Adult Health Research Network.

Co-authors are: Lindsay Till Hoyt, Ph.D., of Fordham University and Mark C. Pachucki, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts.

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Facebook Comes Up With Anti-Harassment Tools for Messenger



Amidst growing concerns of online harassments in Facebook, which of late has seen a drastic increase, some action from the social media giant was always expected. In a new moved to curb such incidents, Facebook recently announced a set of anti-harassment tools for its Messenger platform.

With almost 1.3 billion active users, Messenger is now a favorite of those, who specialize in this sort of activity. The move is aimed towards safeguarding the interest of vulnerable individuals and groups, who are often the target of much malice and ridicule.

What anti-harassment tools are meant for?

The anti-harassment tools are conceived to identify and restrict blocked contacts from reaching the aggrieved party, by creating a new or separate account.

Moreover, people who are abused online through the Messenger now have an opportunity to filter out conversations, that are completely off-the-hook. In short, without having to block the sender, the messages could be viewed and the sender will never know about it.

Already, the liberal and human rights groups have welcomed this move and are terming it as “concrete steps that in the long runs improves online safety”. Surely, these are good signs and there might be more. Especially in the context of survivors of domestic violence, this new security arrangement offers them some much-needed respite.

How do these tools work?

In a bid to identify the repeated offenders, Facebook will trace the IP address, so as to keep an eye on fake accounts and that of the owner. This is done to prevent the new account owners from contacting someone, who has already blocked them on Messenger.

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, speaking on the new harassment tools said:”We’ve come across stories of people, who have blocked some users only to find them with a different account. To stop such incidents in the near future, we’re currently working on enhancing the existing security protocols that make it difficult for users to come up fake and inauthentic accounts.”

Unless the person who blocked the original account initiates contact with the new account, the conversation will be a one-way traffic. This, by and large, gives some amount of control to the victim of harassment.

Facebook has also released a feature that allows the user to ignore conversations. The new feature prominently stands out, because not only it disables conversations, but will also move the same into a filtered message folder.

As of now, the new feature is being extended only for one-on-one messages. However, a more enhanced version will be made available soon for group messages.


Facebook is also working closely with experts from diverse fields, in order to provide the Facebook users with safety resources. The company has even teamed up with the National Network to End Domestic Violence and is looking at the various threat perceptions and experiences, faced by journalists on Facebook.

The new anti-harassment tools are simple, yet effective. For people, who have been a victim of online abuse, these measures are bound to have a positive impact. Although there is a limit to how much Facebook can control, at least, the new security mechanism will key the online predators at bay, to an extent.

Have any Queries :

For those, who are victims of online abuse, they can contact our Facebook security experts for more information.

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