Jahnellia is a junior in the School of Social Work. She has focused her studies on diversity, poverty, and social history. More recently, she has also recognized the value of research and statistics to better understand and reduce disparities. Outside of her coursework, she leads workshops on diversity and intersectionality as an iConnect Facilitator. Jahnellia’s goal is to earn her Master of Social Work and start a nonprofit to support low income children and families to lead healthy and successful lives. Her own earlier struggles with education motivate her to make the path easier for future students. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, she was struck by the toll that gun violence was taking on her neighborhood. She hopes her work will empower young people to succeed.
Jahnellia works with Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males (DREAAM) House to implement and evaluate an evidence-based positive youth development program called “Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES)” designed for African American boys in fifth to eighth grades. This program aims to reduce disparities by decreasing violence and strengthening community stewardship, education, and leadership. Jahnellia is helping DREAAM House staff deliver daily program activities. She also assists Dr. Rachel Garthe and Dr. Kevin Tan in evaluating the program’s effectiveness achieving these outcomes.
Tan’s work focuses on understanding the relationships between young people’s social‐emotional well‐being and youth outcomes. Through the YES program, Tan and his team of researchers evaluate how young people’s social-emotional needs relate to the experience in their community and behaviors. The majority of Garthe’s research focuses on youth violence prevention programming. She has had been implementing and evaluating the YES curriculum for the past five years in various communities. She was happy to bring the curriculum to DREAAM House because of the beneficial outcomes she has seen with many of the youth she has worked with. “YES uniquely allows youth to strengthen connections within their communities,” shares Garthe.
The YES Curriculum aligns with the DREAAM House’s Change Approach “to reach excellence in achievement, engagement, and behavioral health among boys and young men ages 5–24 years old” by building community networks, teaching essential life skills, and creating transformative experiences for DREAAM House participants. In fact, DREAAM House Founder and Executive Director Tracy Dace has worked hard to cultivate sustained relationships between students, faculty, and DREAAM House families. “There is value to these community-campus relationships that bring Illinois students and DREAAMers together in a learning environment. We are developing community and spanning boundaries in an effort to improve outcomes for boys and young men and increase Illinois students’ cultural competency and understanding of social justice.”
Jahnellia will continue her work with DREAAM House, Garthe, and Tan this fall to gain additional experience implementing and evaluating an evidence-based curriculum. Jahnellia notes that this has been good professional experience because she hopes to continue to work with youth. She also applies the skills she has been learning in her BSW courses, such as statistics in social work. Dace and the DREAAM House staff have given Jahnnella an opportunity to be really hands-on. In addition to administering tests and writing evaluations, Jahnella explains that she has been more involved in the day-to-day activities than she originally expected. “I help facilitate a few lessons out of the week. I prep for class every day before the children come in. I also help the kids when the facilitator is teaching the curriculum, so the class isn't slowed down.”
Jahnellia also sees herself as part of the DREAAM House community now. She finds the mentoring relationship rewarding because of her personal experience. “I believe that if more children and teens are given a role model or someone in the community they could look up to, this will inspire change and break a cycle. In high school I had someone in the community that I was able to go to, and they helped mold me into the woman I am today.” Mr. Dace agrees that experiences like this can be meaningful and authentic for students, particularly for students of color. “They can connect the experiences of DREAAMers with their own educational pathways and lived experiences. Students can inspire youth and also engage in community experiences that can motivate them to persist at Illinois."