Being a single parent or guardian is incredibly difficult work, yet there are few outlets available where parents can learn how to move beyond stress and disappointment and embrace hope, support and the promise of a better future.
To fill this gap, Seattle CARES offers Positive Family Connections, a program for parents that grew out of The Rising, an innovative trauma-informed curriculum for middle-school students.
Positive Family Connections has two goals: To improve the relationship Black youth have with their parents or guardians, and to provide a safe space where adults who want to be more effective parents can de-stress, share problems and work on healing themselves.
As with our other programs, Wellness Healing Circles are a game-changer. In these sessions, CARES-trained facilitators focus on what makes a healthy quality life, emphasizing parenting, conflict-resolution and empowerment skills.
Most of the parents are saddled with other worries: Maybe they can’t pay the cellphone bill or afford groceries. Our facilitators are connected to community partners who may be able to provide rental assistance and gift cards to be used for food as well as internet service and WiFi connections.
This spring, to keep the community safe, Positive Family Collections went virtual. The video conferencing software allows facilitators and mentors to personally lead sessions online. The online format offers consistency and a safe place to share hopes and dreams, work through solutions and start the healing process.
For the past year, Seattle CARES worked with the Bethune Institute, a non-profit education and research organization in Lexington, Ky., to assess The Rising program. Dr. Lynn Smith, president and CEO of Bethune, led the study.
Dr. Smith interviewed the Seattle students at the beginning of the school year and then again in June. “During that time frame, we saw increases in students’ self-confidence, racial identity and racial pride,” said Dr. Smith. “They also improved in social and emotional intelligence.”
Dr. Smith found that The Rising youth had experienced great trauma in their young lives. More than 25 percent had moved or changed schools in the past year and 14 percent had a family member in prison or deported. “The Wellness Circles speak to the students’ trauma because they focus on healing,” said Dr. Smith. “Mentoring circles give them consistent and positive relationships with other adults, relationships that may not be available within their community.”
Dr. Smith also found that 91 percent of scholars participated in the program’s Wellness Mentoring Circles, 83 percent saw increased racial identify and pride, and 92 percent reported increased self-confidence.
The Rising was created in 2012 by the National CARES Mentoring Movement. The Seattle program, one of 58 CARES programs coast-to-coast, is unique. “Seattle focuses on male students,” said Dr. Smith, “which is not the case nationally. The Seattle team targets students who can really benefit from the program.” Seattle is also the only regional CARES program that transitioned to a virtual setting when schools shut down in the spring.
When COVID-19 shut down Seattle Public Schools in March, teachers and parents had to scramble. So too did Seattle CARES. The CARES team had to make sure that students in The Rising could continue this innovative program online.
For two years, Seattle CARES has offered The Rising to students in two Seattle middle schools: Denny International and Meany. The program, funded by a grant from King County’s Best Starts for Kids, works with about 45 boys to bolster self-esteem, increase racial pride and identity, and improve critical thinking skills.
“It was tough for a while when the pandemic hit,” said Don Cameron, executive director, Seattle CARES, ‘but by week four, we were able to transition The Rising to an online platform. We got laptops and computers for the young scholars who needed them, and we helped their families get internet service and wireless access.”
Seattle CARES partnered with InterConnections to secure 27 laptops and 10 hotspots so The Rising students would not miss a single online session.
“I saw a lot of benefit in connecting virtually,” said Mawiayah Fields, assistant principal, Denny International Middle School. “One scholar transferred out of our school but was able to continue with the cohort because it was online. The Rising also supported families with technology needs, such as hot spots, laptop or tablet.”
Seattle CARES’ approach to The Rising uses a three-year cohort model, so students stay together and move through the program as a group. An astonishing 87 percent of the boys stayed with the program from Year 1 to Year 2. And when The Rising went virtual in the spring, participation in the weekly online Wellness Circles was 91 percent.