We have expanded Relationships 101 to a location outside of the juvenile detention facility.
I have learned that the real challenge for most of my girls is at re-entry. There is such a lack of programming, a lack of mentorship, a lack of really everything they need when they are released from incarceration.
Their freedom might be given back to them, but they are prisoners in a reality that is unkind and filled with the pitfalls that got them in jail in the first place. As a result, it is no surprise that so many of them land right back being locked up or doing drugs and/or committing crimes again and again and again.
The Advot Project is looking at ways to stop this cycle. We are exploring where we can have an impact, where we can make a difference, and how we can become a bridge for these girls. We are seeking willing communities of people to volunteer and help make the transition back to life smoother and easier.
These kids need mentors. These kids need guidance, and most important of all, these kids need someone to believe that they can be something.
That's our job. That is our mandate and The Advot Project is trying to figure out how to make that happen.
So, at this new location we are implementing Relationships 101.
In the morning I arrive with my two brilliant new facilitators. YES, I AM TRAINING NEW FACILITATORS and I have been blessed with the cream of the crop.
We learn that there was a change of plan and a miscommunication and we were not told in advance that the school is going on a field trip.
Stuff happens. We're all busy and it's really no big deal.
So my absolutely wonderful new team members and I decide to go have breakfast.
I Google places to eat near us and this restaurant comes up. We all put the address in our phones and we say we will meet there.
I start driving and as I'm driving there the neighborhood around me goes from not so good to really bad.
I'm thinking to myself this might not be the best idea. I am also suddenly aware that I'm bringing these two sweet, young women somewhere that might not be the best place to go.
The Jewish mother in me panics thinking that I might be endangering them.
I pull up to where the address of the restaurant is. There are curtains on the windows as well as metal bars.
The whole place looks kind of closed and locked up.
I'm thinking this cannot be good. I peek in and a man opens a door and smiles and says the entrance is here.
I'm pretty sure I'm being led into some deep, dark gambling or drug den, but, thank heaven, I could not have been more wrong.
It was like the closet in Narnia where you walk out the back and an amazing kingdom is waiting there to be explored.
I walk into a cozy, beautiful, delicious smelling two-room restaurant.
There is this deep southern vibe. Every table is filled with beautiful people with huge plates of biscuits, gravy, grits and waffles in front of them.
People were chatting and smiling. It was as if I had been transported to New Orleans for a celebration.
We ordered an omelet and potatoes, French toast, and peach cobbler. The portions are massive. The food was delicious and the conversation was deep and meaningful.
Of course, we all know not to judge a book by its cover.
Of course, we all know that what's on the inside is what matters and not what's on the outside.
Of course, we all know that we should always be open and we should always be careful not to judge.
But as I drive away from this beautiful and charming experience, I think about the girls that we work with, how life is so hard on them, how their outside is so tough, and their exterior is as harsh as the world that they have lived in.
But I can tell you, I have seen, I know, and I believe with every part of my being that, if given a chance, these girls have inside them the potential to absolutely, positively, blow you away.
I know the girls that I work with have great capacity in their hearts.
During Relationships 101, I talk a lot about fear.
We need to pay attention to fear. We need to touch it. We need to acknowledge it, because fear can sometimes keep us safe.
When I drove into that neighborhood, to be completely transparent, I was a little afraid, but I did not let that paralyze me and I did not let that make me turn away.
Ironically, when I got home a graduate of my program who is in college in Northern California called me.
She transferred this year from a community college to a state college.
It has been a big year.
“Hi, Ms.,” she says.
I love that after four years and hundreds of times of my telling her to call me Nomi, she still insists on calling me Ms.
“Hi, darling,” I say.
“I'm worried,” she says.
“About what?” I ask.
“Coming home,” she answers.
Now, I am silent.
“I'm listening,” I say.
It's quiet again.
“I am afraid of coming back,” she says again.
She is coming home for the summer, back to a neighborhood like the one where I had breakfast today.
“Well,” I say.
I can hear her fear on the phone.
“Listen to me. Your roots are here. You have changed.
When you come home, everyone will see how well you are doing. Everyone will be proud of you. I am so proud of you. It will be fine.”
“What if…” she starts to say.
“You will not,” (I cut her off.) “Because you cannot now. There is so much to lose.”
The moment the words come out of my mouth, I regret saying them.
I want her to stay clean and not do something stupid, not because she is afraid to lose something, but because she doesn't need that any more.
Change isn't about doing something because you are afraid. Change is about not doing something because it's not you anymore.
I stop and tell her about the restaurant.
I tell her about the food.
I tell her about the people.
And I say, “Find your Flavor Table.”
“What's that?” she asks.
“That's the name of the restaurant.”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“Well, what I mean is find the good when you come home for the visit.
Find the good and hold its hand tight.
Find the good and don't go with the others.
Do you know what I mean?
Find Narnia, the hidden kingdom.”
There is a deep sigh on the other end of the phone.
“Well,” she says, “That means I'm going to be hanging out with you and my mama a lot this summer.”
“Well, I could think of worse scenarios,” I say laughing.
She actually has an internship and I pray that she will be strong.
“We will talk every day,” I say.
“And you will remember what you have inside you. Your strength will surprise you.”
“Kind of like when you walked into that restaurant today?”
“Yes,” I say, “not kinda, but exactly!”
“Can we go there when I get back?” she asks.
“Twice.” I tell her. And my heart is worried but confident that she will be okay.
Because this one’s inside, is going to absolutely, positively blow us all away someday.