UCAN offers services that focus on mental health, from traditional therapy to expressive acting and art programs, but healing is at common theme in our programming.
UCAN Survive is a new program funded via a ICJIA (Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority)/VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant that is dedicated to healing and supporting victims or witnesses of crime.
“We keep the same foundation of UCAN,” says Janay Brinkley, a UCAN youth development coach. “We believe traumatized youth and families can become leaders as well, but combine that with ICIJA/VOCA (and) we serve victims of crime. That ranges anywhere from burglary, arson, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, harassment; even if you witnessed a crime or experienced a homicide, you’d fall under this service. We deal with clients 13 and up.”
Janay moved to Chicago from Maryland in 2017. “I felt like I was being called to Chicago,” she says. Though she had not previously worked in a nonprofit, she joined the UCAN team in April 2018, specifically to be trained and work under the UCAN Survive program.
“What makes us different from other development coaches,” she explains, “is that we are like a hybrid that includes mentorship, case management and a form of counseling. We kind of do all three in one.”
The grant allows for 10 youth development coaches, five under Violence Intervention and Prevention Services and five under Counseling and Youth Development, the latter of which is where Janay works.
“We help them with goal setting, jobs, and educational advocacy. We have youth who need us to step in for parent counseling, or help with court, or help with restraining order paperwork. We are your coach, we are your mentor, we are your therapist, and we are your caseworker,” says Janay. “We want to work smarter not harder. UCAN has group programs like Phenomenal Woman and Project Visible Man. Let’s do that same group type setting with UCAN Survive.”
UCAN piloted a group UCAN Survive program in which individual clients come together monthly in a group setting to address and practice healthy self-coping skills, self-care, confidence, education on the criminal justice system, and encourage hope for the future.
“There have been a lot of success stories,” says Janay. “There was a client (and) she was a walk-in. She heard about the program and was assigned to my coworker, Ashley . The woman explained that she was walking around with three kids and a newborn baby, living in her car. That day, Ashley helped her get basic needs at the store, gave her the information she needed and helped her get into a shelter. I was in awe of that story. She was support, she was her case manager, she gave her shelter and she gave her tangible thing she needed, all within that day.”
The development coaches have since worked out a system in which one coach has a specified strength that helps determine which client is assigned to whom, whether helping with housing accommodations, employment or mentoring,.
But Janay noticed one unexpected pattern in her clients.
“Sometimes, what really means the most to the client … it’s just the time spent.”