Updated: Sep 8, 2018
We don’t have to know everyone’s story. However, we can accompany our participants through their transition and encourage them along the way. What made me think of this is the story of Kadeen, a recent graduate of Sister Jean Hughes Adult High School at St. Leonard’s House.
Committing to high school as an adult can have its challenges, from working full time to juggling family life. The students at Sister Jean Hughes Adult High School of St. Leonard’s Ministries face the additional tribulation of putting their lives back together after having been incarcerated.
Harmony, Hope & Healing staff and St. Leonard’s Director of Education Nancy Stanner lead a class in the high school called Always Ready To Succeed. In the ARTS class, students learn and practice stress management, organization techniques, teamwork, conflict resolution and fostering leadership skills.
Music sessions are a great way to learn and put these skills into action. As part of the ARTS class, each cohort of students chooses songs for their graduation and becomes the choir for their ceremony. The students share their stories through song, learn to trust their own voice, and build community.
This spring, Kadeen’s group chose “Powerful,” from the television show Empire and “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by R&B duo McFadden & Whitehead. Both songs reflect determination and working together.
Ups and Downs
It’s not uncommon for our classes to have their share of ups and downs. I recall one moment with Kadeen’s class when everyone seemed to be having a long day. His lack of enthusiasm caught my attention.
I pulled him aside after class to encourage him to think about how graduation was his moment of triumph and declaration that he made it! He responded with a quick “This is just a moment like any other,” attitude.
Something in his personal life was distracting him but he would only tell us on his own time or not at all, which comes with the territory of our work. However, we can accompany our participants through their transition and encourage them along the way.
That’s what our team continued to do with the class until a few weeks before the end of the class. We were rehearsing for graduation. The students were excited that evening and the room was filled with emotions and personalities, all rushing to graduate and be done.
There was work still to do, though, so we pushed past the challenges. At the end of that class, Kadeen came up to say, “I know we aren’t easy to work with, but I...we appreciate you sticking it out with us.”
When the big day for graduation finally came, only feelings of joy and hope seemed to fill the church space along with the students, their families and friends. I noticed Kadeen sitting by himself.
I asked if he was OK. He insisted he was fine, but I could tell something was bothering him again. I assumed it was jitters, so I told him to breathe and take in every moment.
The time came to pass out diplomas. A woman who looked familiar stepped from the audience to hand Kadeen his diploma. I found out later it was his mother, Janelle.
As I learned, Janelle set out to get Kadeen involved in school but realized she also wanted the same goal for herself so in September, both enrolled in the school together. Janelle graduated in December. But Kadeen needed more time; he came back to complete the program this spring and he did.
You can see from the picture that when Kadeen caught up to his fellow graduate, the smiles of the two of them lit up the whole room!
Now that I know more of the story of Kadeen and Janelle, I realize how perfectly the songs Kadeen’s class chose reflect who the students are and how far they have come throughout their life to be the powerful and resilient people they are today.
If Kadeen and his classmates can pull out those same songs or tools we have taught them whenever they experience hardship or success to get them through that moment, I know that we at Harmony, Hope & Healing have done our job.