Post by Robyn Haugan
Amicus has served thousands of women, men and young people over its 44-year tenure. While we’ve seen some of our clients struggle to maintain change, we’ve also seen many of them transcend great odds and experience personal success and transformation. From time to time we are lucky enough to stay in touch with clients as they move on with life; other times we lose track of them until one day, years down the road, they call or write to let us know how life is going.
Of course, it can be easy to get bogged down in this line of work—to focus on the negative, the injustice and the disappointment—but updates about client successes help us to keep track of the positive. Watching our clients flourish and seeing the lives that they can make for themselves after being given a second chance is one of the most energizing and rewarding parts of working at Amicus. For this reason and others, we’ve decided to implement a “Where Are They Now?” monthly feature to our blog! “Where Are They Now?” will highlight a different participant every month and will function as a sort of who’s-who of Amicus alumni—informing our readers of the successful transformations that take place when a genuine desire for change exists and is supported by community.
We’ll share a new “Where Are They Now?” story on the third Thursday of every month and today, we début our first-ever “Where Are They Now?” featuring Shalonda, an Amicus Radius graduate.
Where Are They Now? Real Change Shining on the Outside
Shalonda seems like a typical 19-year-old young woman—donning an “is-it-isn’t-it authentic?” designer bag, manicured nails, coiffed hair, and quick to check her oft-buzzing cell phone, one might guess that she has lived the carefree life emblematic of so many teenage girls. She is reserved and quiet at first but ready with a smile and quick to laugh once she is comfortable; she speaks about her life with refreshing candor and impressive insight. Today, Shalonda lives with her mom and her younger sister. Life is good. Just three short years ago, this was not the case.
When asked what got her into trouble and brought her into contact with the Juvenile Justice system and Amicus’ Radius program, Shalonda simply says: “Boys.” At 16, she ran away from home—her mother was upset about the young man she was dating and Shalonda didn’t want to deal with the criticism, so she left. She got picked up for being a runaway and spent 30 days in Juvenile Detention—an experience she describes as “very hard.” Shalonda was assigned a supervising agent and referred to the Amicus Radius program. She went through the program once, but ran away a second time and was mandated to complete Radius again.
Her first time in Radius, Shalonda admits that she didn’t take the program seriously: “I didn’t really want to go—I don’t get along well with other girls and didn’t want to deal with their drama so I mostly just sat back, listened and didn’t really tell anything about myself.” The second time around was different:
Radius made me more mature—I learned to think before I do something. It made me learn more about me—made me see who I really am.
When asked what the best part of Radius was, Shalonda says that it was listening to other girls’ stories and learning from them. And learn she did.
After Radius, Shalonda re-focused on life—on what was important. She graduated high school: “My family didn’t think that I would graduate, but it turns out I did!” and now she is involved with Saint Paul Public Schools Transitions Plus program and deciding how to proceed with post-secondary education options. She says that she hopes to be a math teacher some day.
Shalonda has held down a couple of jobs recently, but like many of her peers, is feeling the effects of the dreary economy. Nonetheless, her spirit is hopeful and she is determined to find employment (notably, on the day of her interview, Shalonda stopped in to Amicus’ Reconnect office to inquire about potential job-leads). As far as her free time goes, Shalonda says she has changed her routines and habits since graduating Radius—she plays basketball with her younger brother and “…read[s] books all the time now!” She is a happy, well-adjusted, driven young woman and in terms of advice for other girls who are walking the line between good choices and bad, she says: “Listen to your parents first—not your friends. You only get one Mom and Dad in your lifetime and they want the best for you.”
For her part, Shalonda says she definitely pays more attention to her mom’s opinions these days. She’s been out of trouble and has had no encounters with the Corrections system for two years; she says she knows she “doesn’t want to go back to that life.” Like so many of our clients, Shalonda is an Amicus Program graduate of whom we are very proud—her transformation is truly awe-inspiring. When asked how she has changed the most, Shalonda says: “I don’t act like a little kid anymore. I still have that kid in me, but I don’t show it all the time.” Shalonda is the physical incarnation of Amicus’ mission—she is building a successful life for herself and, as a result, making her community stronger. For Shalonda, real change started on the inside and, today, that change shines on the outside.