In July 2017, the Young Adults in Northern California embarked on a program for Project Pride in Oakland, CA, a rehabilitation center for women who have lost custody of their children due to drug and alcohol abuse. Through a strict schedule that requires sobriety and often court-mandated participation in various programs, the women work towards regaining custody of their children.

The Young Adults devised a program for the women, offering them Saturday morning classes focused on life skills and job search skills. The ten-week program covered topics ranging from self-confidence and resume writing to job search and job interview skills. The program also reviewed life skills such as managing one’s time and personal finances. 

Each class began with a slide presentation by one of the YAs, with questions to engage the participants in discussion. This was followed by a break-out session with one-on-one interaction between the YAs and the women, during which the women worked on their homework with support and encouragement from the YAs.

On the first morning of the project, I woke up to the sound of my alarm bell ringing and thought to myself, “Had I really committed to spending my precious Saturday mornings to volunteer? How did I get roped into this?” But, alas, the commitment had been made so I dragged myself out of bed, showered, dressed, stopped by Starbucks for breakfast and tea, and then started on the one-hour drive to Oakland to Project Pride.  Little did I realize that I had begun on a fulfilling journey that I would eventually be grateful to have undertaken.

To plan for the program, we would meet each week on a conference call to prepare a solid lesson plan with slides, videos and activities. The classes were not always smooth-sailing, and we were often challenged. Some of the women came and left the program, while others made it clear they had no interest in participating. There were also moments of gratification, such as seeing the confidence and pride in the women during the resume-writing class when we helped them become aware of their strengths through focusing on their previous work and life experiences.

The sessions we saw the women most engaged in were the life skills classes. For instance, I taught a lesson on time management and used Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People as a framework for the lesson. As I delved into the material, I saw that I was losing the class and the women’s eyes were glossing over. So I attempted to engage them by asking them for personal examples. Immediately a few of the women became more engaged in the discussion. I learned a valuable lesson about the need to personalize the material to facilitate discussions.

A woman who stood out for me was a new mother who would bring her newborn to class to feed and care for him. She had never held a job and felt intimidated by the resume workshop, but realized at the end, she actually had many skills derived from her past experiences managing a household and personal finances.

While resistant at first, she felt more comfortable with each class and shared some of the personal challenges she faced, which all the women related to – such as the loss of freedom, feeling deeply alienated from their previous lives, feeling isolated from friends and families, and missing their children. Many of the women were at the center for the third or fourth time. And while the stories they shared may not have been one I could relate to, I could deeply empathize.

After 10 weeks of classes, we had a small celebration for the women. A few of the women made short speeches reflecting on their experience. We took pictures, cut a cake and gave out certificates to mark their successful completion of the program. Though I am not absolutely certain that we made a huge difference, I feel grateful for the experience and came away with a few new friends, a new perspective, and a lot of memories.