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Project Giving Tree Spreads Holiday Cheer

Dec. 22 2014 | Tags: , , , ,

This month, between the holiday decorations, multiple visits from Santa Claus, and gifts for hundreds of our participants from dozens of generous donors, the halls of Alternatives For Girls have been looking a lot like the North Pole. December has been a month of celebration and happiness, thanks to our holiday giving program, Project Giving Tree (PGT), and the multiple holiday parties thrown by the programs at AFG. Because a vast majority of the girls and women in our programs celebrate Christmas, we do host several holiday parties which include Christmas activities. However, throughout the month, other traditions are also celebrated in various ways.

Each year, as a part of PGT, the girls and young women of AFG create a wish list that includes items they are in need of that year. The wish lists include items such as clothing, winter boots, coats, scarves, and gloves, as well as fun items such as books and board games. Once the wish lists are filled out, they are then “adopted” by businesses, organizations, local churches, and individual supporters. This year, our generous PGT donors fulfilled over 300 wish lists, as well as additional items for dozens of families!

“Project Giving Tree is significant for our program participants because it provides them with holiday items. Sometimes a coat, a pair of boots or even a much desired toy can light up their faces,” Melody Moore, AFG Volunteer Services Manager explains. “It’s another way for us to demonstrate our love for them. With the help of so many supporters who adopt wish lists, they help to make this possible and add smiles onto the faces of our program participants.”

The gifts collected during PGT are given to the girls at each program’s holiday party throughout the month of December. The Shelter party included both current and past residents and their families. The festive party was complete with a DJ playing holiday music, a delicious dinner, and candy favors for everyone, including the children of the young women.

The highlight of the event was a visit from St. Nick himself! All of the children were thrilled to meet him and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. After getting her picture taken with Santa, one young girl shared what she asked for, “I told him I want a doll!” she exclaimed.

After Santa left, some of the young women preformed beautiful renditions of holiday hits such as “O Holy Night” and “All I Want For Christmas is You”. Their beautiful voices could be heard all throughout the building! Finally, over 30 girls received gifts from PGT and spent the rest of the evening spending time with loved ones.

Outreach held three separate parties for their Safe Choices, New Choices, and Peer Education programs. While Prevention held its annual craft fair, during which the youth create holiday crafts and receive their PGT gifts, and a separate family party, which allowed two dozen families to eat a delicious dinner together and receive gifts for their children.

AFG would like to thank each and every person who participated in Project Giving Tree this year, as well as the wonderful volunteers and sponsors who made all of our holiday parties possible!

Sew Great! Group Celebrates Major Success

Oct. 31 2014 | Tags: , , , , ,

On October 23rd, the women from the Sew Great! Program were joined by AFG staff and volunteers to celebrate their completion of a 100 bag order for the Art’s My Bag project. For the past five weeks, the women have been hard at work completing the order for Art’s My Bag, which is a project that will donate bags filled with art supplies to kindergartners in Detroit to promote creativity and participation in the arts. Roughly six weeks ago, Art’s My Bag creator, Lois Cohn, recruited AFG to produce 100 canvas bags. The order allowed the group to purchase supplies to produce the bags and to supply the women in the group with a weekly stipend. Additionally, she provided a donation to launch Sew Great!, a weekly commercial sewing employment training program headed by volunteers and support staff.

The order of 100 bags was Phase 1 of a pilot program that grew from exploring ideas for a social enterprise at AFG so that girls and women can learn valuable employment skills and create goods they can sell to support themselves and their families. “I don’t really have an income, so getting something that can help me pay my bills is great,” Tina, a Sew Great! member shares. “I had just gotten a shut off notice a week before we started, for my lights and gas, and I was able to pay it down with the money I got from Sew Great!”
During the celebration, the women of Sew Great! held a fashion show to give the staff and volunteers a sneak peek on their next venture, making scarves for an upcoming craft show in Dearborn Heights and others around metro Detroit. The women proudly showed off the fleece scarves they plan to sell, in a variety of colors and prints. This will begin Phase 2 of the pilot training project.
After they each received certificates of achievement, the women shared what being a part of Sew Great! and its most recent project has meant to them. Click here to read more. “Sew Great! has improved my self-confidence, which was very low, because now I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to,” shared one woman. The women have also learned a lot during the classes and throughout this project that will help them in their future endeavors. “Something I’ve learned that I will use in the future is patience, because it takes a lot of patience to sew. That is something I didn’t have before I started Sew Great!,” April, another Sew Great member, shared.
There were some more difficult aspects to the project as well. “Working with the other women was challenging because I stay to myself a lot. So, it was a great experience being around other women, especially ones from other cultures,” April shared. Tina agreed and further explained, “Learning to communicate [with the other participants] was challenging, because of the language difference. But we listened to Spanish CDs and had Spanish translations written down to help us communicate.” During Sew Great! meetings, AFG staff members, Leonor, Berta, Gabriella, and Marta, took turns and joined the group to translate important information to the group’s Spanish speaking members to greater improve communication.
At the end of the celebration, all five women sat together, eating lunch and laughing. It was clear that through accomplishing this goal together, they had also grown closer together despite any challenges. For the women, working on this project and exploring their creative side while sewing apparel has had a lasting effect, “Sew Great! has helped me support myself and feel good about myself,” Tina bragged.
AFG would like to thank the volunteers who have dedicated their time to teaching and overseeing the sewing classes and those who donated sewing machines and fabric. If you are interested in supporting the Sew Great! women, they will be selling their scarves on November 7th and 8th at the craft show being held at the Eton Senior Center in Dearborn Heights from 9:00 AM- 4:00 PM.

Face Forward: A new program at AFG serves youth with juvenile involvement

Aug. 28 2014 | Tags: , ,

In January 2014, our Outreach and Education Services Department launched a new program funded by the Department of Labor, Face Forward. The goal of the new program is to help improve the long-term employment prospects of youth in the juvenile justice system. The program serves youth between the ages of 16 – 24, who had a juvenile offense when they were under the age of 18, by helping the youth continue their education and find gainful employment. “The whole purpose of the program is to prevent youth from entering into the adult justice system. The goal is for them to become employable, and to help them move beyond their juvenile offense. This program will empower them to become successful adults,” shares Tyresha Robinson, Case Planning Services Manager of Face Forward.

Face Forward will reach these goals by working with the youth in a variety of ways. First, the program will provide individual case management services to its participants. These sessions will help the youth with goal setting, education and employment, obtaining a driver’s license and housing if necessary, and assist them to reunite with their family.

The second component of the program is to connect youth with vital resources. Primarily, staff members will help link the youth with GED classes and testing, as well as job placement. In addition to this, participants will receive help exploring their career options through job certification programs. Youth will be able to explore different careers by attending trainings in the following fields: customer service, computer network technology, global logistics and dispatch, nursing, commercial driving, and more. After completing training, the participants will receive a certification, which will improve their chances of finding sustainable employment.

Finally, the program will give participants the opportunity to be matched with a volunteer mentor. The mentors will have the opportunity to develop a one-on-one relationship with a youth in the Face Forward program by providing additional support and encouragement to achieve the goals the youth have set for themselves. Face Forward is currently seeking adults to become mentors to youth in the program. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a mentor at Alternatives For Girls, please contact Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Mentor Coordinator, at 313-361-4000 x326 or gsantiago@alternativesforgirls.org.

Participants Share Their Graduation Stories

May. 29 2014 | Tags: , , ,

It is graduation season for our high school seniors so we sat down with a few participants to talk about their high school experiences. Of course, each path to graduation is different. Each of our girls has a different story; each had her own struggles and her own accomplishments. These are some of their stories.

Brittany

“English is my favorite subject because I get to learn about all of the different stuff that has happened by reading the plays, like Hamlet”, Brittany shares. Brittany is a Peer Educator (PE) in AFG’s Outreach and Education Services Department. An honor roll student, Brittany says she will miss her peers now that high school is over but is looking forward to finding a job and getting her own car.

Although Brittany worked hard to get good grades throughout high school, she admits that there were times she struggled in doing just that. “The work is (typically) easy, but at times it can be challenging. Some of the classes I got, like accounting, were hard”, Brittany recalls. Through these difficult times, Brittany says that her coordinators and fellow PE’s played a role in keeping her moving forward, “They motivate you to stay in school and make sure you’re on the right track”.

Brittany has succeeded despite these hard times and is proud of herself for being an honor roll student and getting good grades. After she graduates, Brittany has plans to pursue a career as a Pediatrician by studying at Wayne County Community College and Wayne State University. As for the incoming freshmen who will be starting high school next year, Brittany has some words of wisdom for them, “It’s a good experience. You learn a lot about friends, school, work, and boys”.

Taija

Taija is a Shelter Aftercare participant who is also attending the Transition to Independent Living (TIL) classes here at AFG.  As a senior getting prepared to graduate, Taija says her favorite class is Personal Finance and the thing she will miss most about high school is learning.

Taija’s path to graduation included becoming pregnant with her daughter. “When I was younger I didn’t get great grades, since I’ve been a senior I’ve been making better grades. I think my daughter has motivated me”, Taija explains. “When she grows up, I want her to get good grades in school. I don’t want her to do bad like I did”, she continues. While pregnant, Taija was a resident in AFG’s shelter and was determined to keep school a priority, taking the bus to get there and back every day.  

Since leaving the shelter, Taija has continued participating in AFG programming by joining the TIL classes. “I joined the TIL group because there was more I could benefit from, like scholarships”, Taija shares. After she graduates, Taija is currently deciding between attending a trade school to become a nurse’s assistant or joining the National Guard. “The National Guard can help you with your life, you have to get up every morning and be dedicated. I think I can do that”, she explains. In addition to her future career plans, Taija is looking forward to getting an apartment, a new job, and taking care of her daughter on her own.

Alternatives For Girls is proud of all of the graduates and wishes them the best of luck in all of their future endeavors!

AFG Heads to Lansing to Advocate for Homeless and Runaway Youth

May. 28 2014 | Tags: , , , ,

For the third year in a row, Alternatives For Girls staff and participants traveled to the state capitol to speak with State Representatives and build awareness of runaway and homeless youth. Every year the Michigan Network for Youth and Families (MNYF) organizes Dome Day, a day for organizations to set up shop in the Capitol, have meetings with State Legislators, bring awareness to the needs of runaway and homeless youth in Michigan, and convince them the importance of thinking of these youth when voting on the next budget. Although AFG staff planned on attending Dome Day on March 12th, along with other youth-focused agencies, the Outreach and Education Services (OES) and Shelter/Transition to Independent Living (TIL) staff were unable to attend due to inclement weather.

Undeterred from their original goal, OES and Shelter/TIL staff made arrangements with MNYF to schedule 7 to 8 meetings with State Legislators on April 30th. “Our main goal was to convey to the Legislators that although funding for runaway and homeless youth is currently tied in with the Foster Care system, because they have some similarities, there really needs to be separate funding because both groups are so unique”, explains Deena Policicchio, AFG’s Outreach and Education Services Director. According to Deena, this funding has not increased at the rate of cost of living. “In addition, we also wanted to connect the link between sex trafficking, which is on everyone’s mind right now, and homeless and runaway youth. Because homeless and runaway youth are some of the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, they really need to be focused on when creating legislation and allocating funds”, Deena explains.

Along with one current Shelter resident, Deena was joined by Lynzi Tarango, Shelter Case Planner, and Nkenge Burkhead, OES Youth Street Outreach Coordinator. Throughout the day, they met with staff from the offices of Representative Farris, Representative Lafontaine, plus others, and had an in person meeting with Representative Coleman A. Young. “One of the highlights of the day was getting the chance to meet with the Representatives. They were very interested and attentive to what we had to say”, Lynzi shares. The importance of the day was not lost on Raven, a current Shelter resident, who told Lynzi she didn’t realize how big of a deal it was that they had this opportunity until they got there. Lynzi explained, “Raven shared her experience of being homeless as well as her experiences since being here at AFG. She did a great job answering questions and advocating for homeless and runaway youth”.

Peer Educators Sew Hats for Children’s Hospital

Apr. 24 2014 | Tags: , ,

This winter, youth in AFG’s Outreach and Education Services Peer Education program expressed to AFG staff that they wanted to do a volunteer service project for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. After considering a few different options, they decided to make fleece hats for the children at the hospital. With the help of one of our fantastic volunteers, the Peer Educators learned to sew the hats. They used a variety of colorful fleece, which provided joy and, most importantly, warmth during those frigid winter temperatures we experienced in Detroit this year.

The first meeting the Peer Educators (PE’s) had was a preparation meeting, where they learned how to cut out the pieces of fleece based on the size of hat they were making. Next, they spent about 5 hours one afternoon, learning to sew and completing their hats. After they learned how to create the hats, the Peer Educators had to teach the whole process to one of their program coordinators. The purpose of this exercise was to help the PE’s fully learn and retain their new skills.

Peer Educator, Tiana, spoke about why the project was important to her, “Making the hats for the children was very heart warming and it feels good to help other people, if I’m capable of doing it. I hope they all loved the hats.”

In total, the youth made 23 hats! A group of the Peer Educators met with Lindsay Heering, the Manager of Child Life Services at Children’s Hospital, to deliver the complete hats. Lindsay gave the group a tour and told them about all the programs at the hospital. The young women in AFG’s Peer Education program were so inspired by the project that they would like to do another project later this year to make fleece blankets for the children at the hospital.

The Peer Educators are hoping to collect donations of new fleece in order to have enough supplies to complete a blanket project. If you’d like to support the cause with a fabric donation, please contact Alex Hayes at ahayes@alternativesforgirls.org or (313) 361-4000 x223.

“I’ve seen how it’s changed peoples’ lives”

Nov. 26 2013 | Tags: , , ,

“It seemed like a good opportunity to do something different,” explains Brittany. Brittany has been a part of the Know Risks Peer Education team at AFG for almost two years. But before joining the team, she didn’t always feel like she had much direction in life.

The 17-year-old high school senior has a big smile and sparking brown eyes. She speaks with pride as she describes what she does as a part of the Know Risks team. “We go to [community organizations like] Vista Maria and Starfish and do workshops on healthy relationships, HIV, and self-esteem,” she explains.  “I get to teach girls new stuff that they don’t know about…I’ve seen how it’s changed peoples’ lives.”

Learning responsibility

In helping others, Brittany has also been able to strengthen herself. She says that she has become much more independent since becoming a Peer Educator. “It’s teaching us how to be responsible for when we have a real job,” she explains.

She’s been able to improve her grades from C’s to A’s and B’s. She credits this improvement to being a Peer Educator. “I got more focused on my work,” she says proudly.

Brittany recently moved from the Know Risks team to a new Peer Education team focused on juvenile justice (stay tuned for more info!). This year, she plans to graduate from high school and go on to college. She wants to first become an RN, but ultimately she would like to become a pediatrician. She wants to transfer her love of working with other youth into being able to help children.