To Get it Right, Ask the People You Serve If you want to help a population, the best person to ask is them. It’s not rocket science. If we don’t listen to their views, their experiences, we come at it from a purely cold clinical perspective and we’re not likely to be successful. We have a program graduate, Angie, who sits on our board, along with professionals from the behavioral treatment world, the university, local business people, a whole collection of individuals. But the room often goes quiet when Angie gives her perspective on the conversation. Angie was born addicted to heroin, because her mother was a heroin addict. At the age of 16, Angie was a heroin addict in her own right, injecting herself. She did that for the next 20 years. For those 20 years, she was in and out of incarceration. She came to us in her mid-30s having had that moment in an 8x4 cell, saying she was done. She wanted a different life. She was someone who had the courage to do something about it. Today, she is a very successful full-time employee, heading up the butcher department at a
grocery store and, a few weeks ago, she got a promotion to head of customer services. When we stop asking questions and learning about their lives,whatwe’redoing is processing people as opposed to understanding people. Look at the backgrounds of so many of our clients: single-parent families, the parent who’s missing is probably incarcerated, poor areas of town, food stamps, very low educationally, probably because the parent had no educational achievement so they weren’t pushing their son or daughter to educational achievement, often with reading and math levels below grade 8. How do you fill out an application form when you can’t read it? That’s where understanding the individuals comes in. Every day,you make an effort.A poemwritten by Ralph Waldo Emerson, called “To Have Succeeded,” says in the last line, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.This is to have succeeded.” That is why I and the entire team here at Second Chance come to work every day. You can’t solve everything. It’s like the father and the son walking along the beach, and the
father is throwing starfish back into the sea. The son asks why he’s doing that, because he can’t save them all. But the father says he can save this one.That’s why we do it. I don’t have the answers. I don’t have the resources, for sure, to make all the difference I want to make. And not everyone who comes to our program has the success that we would hope for them. But the only thing we can do is not give up, because maybe we can help the next person. That makes it worth it to me, to our donors, and to the mission of Second Chance. And we make our community a little safer and a little brighter by doing it. Robert Coleman is the President and CEO of Second Chance, a 501(c)(3) located in Southeast San Diego, whose mission is to create opportunities for people to change their own lives by providing job readiness and life skills training, job placement services, behavioral health services and sober-living housing for adults and youth in need. Prior to his arrival in 2010, Robert served as president and CEO of the YMCA Riverside City & County, overseeing more than 2,500 staff members and volunteers. He was educated in engineering, management studies and business. www.secondchanceprogram.org
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