Life Directions at 5716 Wellness Helps Youth and Young Adults Succeed

May 23rd, 2011
Life Directions' Peer Motivation Program meets in the library at Western High

Misa is a bright and determined high school sophomore who gets good grades. She has also had to overcome difficult life circumstances to excel in school.

Because of “risk factors’ in her life that could interfere with her prospects for success, the faculty at Western International High School in southwest Detroit selected her to participate in the Life Directions program.

Founded in Detroit in 1973, Life Directions is a national organization. The Detroit office has served more than 80,000 individuals 13 – 35 years old. More than 2,000 adult volunteers have participated in the Detroit program. Life Directions’ programs are proven to increase academic success, self-responsibility and positive social involvement.

In October 2008, Misa’s family experienced what she understatedly calls “a rough spot.” Misa’s mother receives disability payments, but the payments suddenly stopped coming, and she was unable to pay rent. Misa has two younger siblings, and all three children live with her mother.

Without a home, the family moved from place to place for a year. They spent spring break 2009 in a shelter. Even during this tumultuous year, Misa still attended school regularly.

“My grades didn’t suffer,” Misa says. “I think that everybody goes through hard times and you have to make the best of things. The hard times have made me mature more quickly in some respects, but in other respects I think I still have a long way to go.”

In October 2009, Misa’s family moved into a Southwest Solutions’ apartment building. Southwest Solutions has revitalized 22 apartment buildings in southwest Detroit to provide quality, affordable housing. Caseworkers at Southwest Solutions helped Misa’s mother reinstate her disability subsidy.

“When we entered our new home, I started to cry,” Misa says. “They were tears of happiness – and relief.”

Misa certainly possesses a reserve of inner strength that she draws upon to persevere. She says that the Life Directions’ Peer Motivation Program has helped her understand and structure that inner strength. Misa has been attending the program, which consists of about a dozen sessions meeting once a week. Using a “peer inspiring peer” model, lesser achieving students work together with achieving students to discuss their experiences and challenges. They map out what their goals are, and the steps to be taken to get there.

“The program has allowed me to establish what I need to do for me to achieve,” Misa says. “I know that I need to work harder, manage my time better, and avoid situations that would hurt my chances for a better future.”

The Peer Motivation and Peer Mentor Program is one of several interconnected and intergenerational after school programs that Life Directions offers to empower participants to make good choices and become self-responsible, productive adults. Achieving 10th and 11th graders who complete the Peer Motivation Program serve as mentors for 8th grade students to help them transition to high school. The mentors receive support and advice from adult coaches and the business community.

Misa says that she would like to become a mentor for younger students and pass along the lessons she has learned.

Life Directions describes its Neighborhood Enrichment Program in this way:

The Neighborhood Enrichment Program enables participants to discover unique individual and community, generational, ethnic, racial and cultural assets. Offering a process by which new possibilities are discovered in themess in which youth and young adults live, participants come to value the message flowing from culture and creed. In becoming messengers, all are invited to find ways of moving from self-interest toward developing movements of self-giving. Success then lies in the work of cultivating peacemaking and seeking justice with responsibility. Underlying all that, Life Directions offers the Focus Life process that seeks to develop spiritual energy to reduce violence, strengthen marriages, families and communities.

“We are guided by core values that define our mission, and our hope is that those we serve make those values their own, to guide them as they pursue their passion and purpose,” says Thomas Shurtleff, project director at Life Directions.

Misa has taken these values to heart and is focused on the goals she wants to accomplish. After she graduates from Western, she intends to complete a college degree in accounting. Then she wants to work and live independently until the time is right to return to college and study to be pharmacist.

“I have seen people close to me struggle with medical issues my whole life,” Misa says. “I hope that one day I can help others with these issues.”

Life Directions is one of the six partner agencies at 5716 Wellness, the new integrated healthcare center at 5716 Michigan Avenue. The other partners are Southwest Solutions,Covenant Community Care, Moms And Babes Too, Madonna University’s Southwest (Detroit) Women’s Educational Empowerment Program (SWEEP), and Children’s Outreach.

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