Adopting new approach helps Camden job-training organization better serve youth

     LeBaron Harvey (left) and Gemyra Wynn are part of the Hopeworks Youth Healing Team. (Anne Hoffman for NewsWorks)

    LeBaron Harvey (left) and Gemyra Wynn are part of the Hopeworks Youth Healing Team. (Anne Hoffman for NewsWorks)

    Could more attention to understanding trauma and its impacts help caregiving organizations become more effective?

    In Camden, the Hopeworks organization specializes in youth job-training programs — and it saw a big change when it adopted a “sanctuary model.”

    Caregiving organizations — especially those serving people who’ve been traumatized — can come under a lot of stress. Staff can get burned out, and the target population can stop buying in, and then, ultimately, leave.

    A sanctuary model aims to undo that trend by promoting nonviolence, open communication and democratic decision making.

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    In 2012, Hopeworks decided to give it a try. It succeeded in getting kids to talk about their feelings, discovering the underlying emotions, and then brainstorming concrete strategies for change.

    “It really drastically improved the overall modus operandi of the organization. The trauma awareness really made it less punitive.

    “And that resonated in how youth were treated and, as a result, how youth felt,” said Natasha Fletcher of the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers Camden who studied Hopeworks’ implementation of the model.

    The changes also led to more youth completing the program, and staff staying in their jobs longer.

    “Hopeworks will actually make you know what your triggers are,” said 17-year-old Gemyra Wynn, part of the organization’s Youth Healing Team. For her, missing her dad has been a trigger.

    “If I would see other people with their fathers, on Father’s Day, I would get really emotional and angry,” she said. “But now, since I’ve been through it so many times, and I know I have somebody to talk to, it’s just more easy.”

    A collaboration between nonprofits and service providers — including Hopeworks — is trying to bring trauma-informed care to more people in Camden.

    So far, the Camden City School District, the Center for Family Services, and several other organizations have signed on.

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