“Bella” is a child in the Culmore Safe Youth Program, part of Second Story in the Community, an after-school program for at-risk youth in the Culmore neighborhood. Some months back, Bella had had an itchy scalp. It was discovered that she had lice, as many children do. Luckily, the program coordinator became aware of this, and was able to purchase the hair treatment needed to rid Bella of the lice at the grocery store.
The lice went away. Unfortunately, the stigma did not. Bella became embarrassed that she had experienced a lice episode, and began avoiding the Safe Youth Project. She did not realize that, in the supportive environment of the Safe Youth Project, the youth and staff only wanted Bella to return. Other children wondered, “Where is Bella?” Bella was missing out on the weekly homework help, the programs, the field trips, and the food assistance that is part of the Safe Youth Project.
The staff member called Bella’s father, leaving a voicemail that was never returned. Then, the staff member saw Bella’s brother, who she regularly saw around the neighborhood, asking if he could tell Bella that she was missed. Finally, the staff member asked some of the other children, who occasionally saw Bella at school, to let her know she was missed at the program. Still, no Bella.
Finally, the staff member saw Bella in the neighborhood. She asked Bella how she was doing. Bella said she was doing well, and no longer had lice. The staff member asked Bella if the others had let her know that she was wondering how she was. Bella told the staff member that, yes, she was aware that she had been asking about her, but she was nervous about returning to the program. She feared that the others would make fun of her for having had lice. The staff member said that, actually, the other children had been missing Bella. The staff member strongly suggested that Bella return to the program as soon as possible.
Bella said that she could come on Thursday. Sure enough, there she was the very next Thursday. And you know what? No one made fun of her. In fact, no one even mentioned lice. All of the other children were just happy to have her back.
Our staff members regularly go above and beyond to help the young people in our programs overcome the challenges associated with poverty, abuse, economic issues, and legal requirements. No young person is forgotten. We work to support communities in which all young people are safe, live in a nurturing environment, and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.