Sheryl Hamilton readily admits that as a single mother raising four children, she subjected them to verbal abuse and cursing. That was over nine years ago, however, and Miss Hamilton says that thanks to a Youth Opportunities Unlimited parenting course, she has changed her behaviour. “Before, I didn’t think I was being the parent that I ought to be,” Miss Hamilton says. “YOU is an excellent program, especially the parenting workshops. They send parenting skills in a whole new direction that is positive. And I have seen the youth look in positive directions, and this helps to stimulate other young persons in positive directions. YOU has had a lasting impact.”
While YOU focuses primarily on interventions with at-risk and unattached youth through its mentoring programs, it supplements these with courses on parenting, employment and life skills training and conflict resolution, among other topics.
For Miss Hamilton, who is from Fletcher’s Land, her journey with YOU began in 2004 when the organization began working with community youth through the mentoring program. This mentoring program was quickly complemented by a parenting course when the community realized it needed to tackle problems with a holistic approach. In order to tackle the conflict, violence and neglect of the children, the community pulled together and threw its full efforts into both the parenting courses and mentoring program.
For Miss Hamilton, the six-week program provided conflict resolution and mediation skills and how to communicate effectively. These skills and tools came in handy as she raised her four children as a single parent. “It was great,” she says, adding that her children now like to remember how it used to be and compare it to present day.
With the encouragement of the Citizens’ Security and Justice Program, the parenting program has since morphed into the Fletcher’s Land Parenting Association, which still meets once a month. The community has now united in its efforts to mind the youngsters and impose a rule stating that they must be off the street by 5 p.m. “I think the YOU program helped the community because parents are more responsible. They started to look out for other person’s children,” Miss Hamilton says, adding that crime and violence has lessened.
Miss Hamilton, however, has not only improved her parenting skills. In a testament to her perseverance and dedication, she has returned to school complete her education with the motivation of giving back to her community. Miss Hamilton is in her final semester of a social work degree at the University of West Indies and is in the process of applying to do a Master’s degree in Canada. She also completed a semester abroad at George Brown College in Toronto. And this was all achieved through sponsorship from the CSJP. Eventually, Miss Hamilton would like to apply her skills and education by working in community development. “Social work has changed how I view people and society. It is a helping profession that restores social functioning and how you cope with the environment. Social work does help persons to restore their coping skills. “
And Miss Hamilton’s children do not ever let her forget her achievements, she adds with a smile. “If I step out of line, they tell me to remember my social work training.”
Now young adults, her children are also a testament to her dedication and hard work, as they have achieved success on their own accord. Her 25-year-old is a financial advisor at Sagicor, her 21-year-old is in her final year at UWI, and her 20-year-old is in her first year at UWI. Her youngest is in sixth form at Excelsior, where he competed in a Challenge Quiz.
The success story of Miss Hamilton and YOU’s programs are just one of many emerging from inner-city communities. By telling these stories, we provide evidence that when positive interventions are implemented in troubled communities, people are able to leverage this opportunity and spread the positive changes on a larger scale.