Restoring Lives focuses on the importance of combating systemic barriers
As the community becomes more aware of adverse childhood experiences and its connection to mental and medical health, Shenita Jones, CEO and founder of Restoring Lives said the barriers and disparities people of color face are the most important thing to address in order to effectively serve people of color.
According to the Center for American Progress, about 16% of Hispanics were uninsured compared to 5% of non-Hispanic whites. 8% of black adults received mental health services in 2018 compared to18% of non-Hispanic white adults. In 2017, suicide was the second-leading death among Asian Americans ages 15 to 24 and American Native and Alaska Natives ages 10 to 34.
“An alcoholic dad may look differently in my household than an alcoholic dad in a white household, but it’s the same effect,” Jones said. “The issue becomes more about barriers that a lot of people of color have versus the barriers that are not seen in other places.”
Jones said that some of the disparities people of color face include lack of safety, missed opportunities to be prepared for careers and college, income inequality, lack of insurance, lack of transportation and more. Those barriers can often lead to issues such as crime, early pregnancy and low self-esteem.
One of the solutions that Jones believes can help alleviate some of the issues that arise because of systematic barriers are mentorship programs. Pairing children with mentors helps them build confidence and gives them a reliable role model, Jones said.
“As you are more confident in yourself, the more you are able to accomplish things,” Jones said. “But then, also you get all the critical thinking skills as well as verbal communication to talk about if you have academic challenges. So when you have [academic issues], you can talk to your teacher or make a request to somebody about needing help.”
Restoring Lives currently offers an educational and mentorship program for girls 9 to 12 years called the Be Blue Girls. The group meets weekly and addresses a variety of topics including confidence, control, coping and character.
The organization plans to start a mentorship program called for Be Blue Boys for boys ages 9 to 12 years old. Jones said Restoring Lives have men interested in volunteering as mentors as well as the curriculum and are focusing on finding boys to be a part of the group.
“The reason why 9 years old to 12 years old was chosen is because those preteen years and really the last years that you can kind of really talk to them effectively and easily,” Jones said. “Those are also the more challenging years.”
In addition to mentorship, it’s also important to take care of the family’s needs. Mentorship isn’t as effective if the family’s basic needs aren’t met because at the end of the day, some of the mentees are still going back to unstable homes, Jones said.
Because of this, Restoring Lives implemented resources like back to school outreach and rental and utility assistance.
“So that’s why you see our family resources, and why we’re trying to provide a resource because one of the things that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs talks about is that if you don’t take care of people’s basic needs of self, safety and security, then they’re not able to move up onto different ladders,” Jones said. “If you don’t take care of the foundation, you can’t take care of the rest.”
Jones is a licensed counselor, and she started Restoring Lives because she felt like people weren’t being helped holistically. At that time, Jones said Ardmore was not doing a good job of letting people know where the resources were, so she wanted to create an organization where people were comfortable enough to ask for help.
“We try our best to be in the know about what’s going on and then we can connect you to other places to be able to receive the help even if we’re not providing the help,” Jones said.
On top of their mentorship program and rental and utility assistance, Restoring Lives also aims to offer programs and services focused on mental health wellness and personal success.
Jones said the agency offers curriculum based life skills psycho-education groups and social and emotional psycho-education groups. The life skills groups are designated to introduce children, youth and young adults to topics of leadership, personal identity, financial literacy and coping skills, and the social and emotional groups typically focus on emotional literacy, social awareness, emotional regulation and social interaction.
Currently, Jones said the organization is running three life skills groups with a Langston University intern for children first to fifth grade and have two groups at the Will Rogers Hugs child center and one at Gloria Ainsworth child care center.
Jones said in the future, she wants to offer more programs focused on personal success and help children discover their interest and passion, be prepared for secondary education, vocational school or the workforce and find success. Because there is a lot of information to cover, Jones said she wants to offer the program for those in sixth grade to 12th grade. The agency is currently offering a NEXT summer boot camp to help high school students prepare for life after high school, but Jones hopes to be able to do career and college fairs and tours in the future.
“A lot of times people don’t understand the college prep is to help kids from dropping out, committing suicide and changing juvenile behavior,” Jones said. “All those things are tied to negative statistics, and we’re trying to be proactive in addressing thoughts and behaviors so that those things can be changed to more of a positive perspective and to decrease those negative statistics.”