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08.15.2018

Showing Up Each Week to Beat the Odds

By Jesse Colman, Treehouse Public Relations Specialist

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Having moved 17 times while growing up in foster care, Alex Cornell knows what it takes to beat the odds and escape high rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, early parenting and substance abuse.

Inspired by the people who helped her realize her potential, she has worked as a Senior Education Specialist in Treehouse’s Graduation Success program for almost four years.

“I always tell my youth: ‘Your story doesn’t have to define you. You don’t have to be a number. You can be the exception, advocate for yourself and go to college,’ ” Alex said.

Treehouse youth have all experienced extraordinary stress compared to most of their peers. Trauma, loss and emotional upheaval can contribute to a sense of hopelessness. Alex and other Education Specialists empower youth to use their own voices and take charge of their destinies through plans and goals developed by the students.

“Think of each goal as the top of the stairs, and action plans are the stairs that take you there,” Alex said. “Say a high school junior has a goal to go to a four-year college and major in theater. I would then ask the student: ‘What do you need to do?’ They’d say something like: ‘I probably need to look up colleges that have a good theater program.’ That right there is an action plan.”

Youth’s dreams range from going to theater school to signing a book deal, from getting a pilot’s license to becoming a veterinarian. Treehouse youth aspire to be everything their peers want to be. Our Education Specialists work to weave together students’ support networks to help them get there, and the most important stakeholders are the students themselves.

“We want to teach them how to advocate for themselves, because eventually, we won’t be there,” Alex said.

The student has to believe in themselves in order to succeed, and this is a skill that typically has to be taught by someone close to them. Treehouse youth find themselves in family situations that might not always provide the support they need. And when the only constant is change, it can be difficult to know who to trust.

“Our kids know that we’re going to show up at the same time every week, and that means the world to them,” Alex said. “Everything else could be falling apart. That’s what we do at Treehouse: We show up when others don’t.”

Youth go from just hearing they can succeed to believing they will.

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About the Author

Jesse Colman is the Public Relations Specialist for Treehouse. He is passionate about building relationships, storytelling and community development.


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