Interview with Shelley Seasly, Project Coordinator for Seeking Safety
Briefly introduce your program and the population that it serves:
The Grand Rapids Modified Seeking Safety program provides culturally informed, evidence based trauma support services to young men of color who have experienced trauma and victimization. We modified the original Seeking Safety curriculum so that is developmentally and culturally relevant for African American males.
When designing the Modified Seeking Safety program, the component from other successful programs in Grand Rapids were incorporated into the design such as using persons of lived experience in working with this population (peer support specialist) and a Supports Coordinator for referrals to community resources.
The program provides holistic wraparound support services to participants that do not currently exist for this population in Grand Rapids.
Services for program participants include:
- Comprehensive assessment
- 12 week Seeking Safety group-adapted to make it culturally and gender relevant, also considering learning styles
- of male participants.
- Peer Support services (persons of lived experience)
- Support Coordination services (help with basic needs)
- Individual mental Health and substance use disorder counseling as requested
- EMDR-an evidence based practice -to reprocess trauma for a person that is having symptoms that interfering with life functioning (flashbacks). This is brief treatment, which should work well with this population.
What have you found to be the biggest need for this population and how has your program addressed that need?
Safety is a great need for the population we serve. Many of these young men have had multiple traumatic experiences and their lives have been and remain very complicated. Stabilizing their lives so that they can focus on treatment is one of the first goals we focus on. Housing is a huge issue in Grand Rapids but especially but for these young men, some of which may have a criminal history and may have a poor history of successful housing experiences. Finding resources in the community that are willing to provide housing to these young men has been a challenge but there has been some success. Wellhouse (an organization to assist with homelessness in the Grand Rapids community) has been one resource. 3:11 has been another housing resource that is particularly focused on young people has also been helpful.
Finding employment is another challenge. Our peer supports have been building relationships in the community which has led to employer’s willingness to give these young men a chance. Hearthside is an employer that is need of people to work and often calls our Peer Supports directly when they need referrals of young men interested in work. We have also worked with another program called Job Start and temp agencies to help with job skills and employment.
What are you proudest regarding your work through the SMSV grant?
We are extremely proud of the work and dedication that our team puts into supporting the community. The grant has allowed us to provide culturally relevant services to a population that has been disenfranchised. Having staff with lived experience increases our ability to engage with these young men who are typically overlooked by traditional service providers. We feel fortunate that we can provide a service to these young men for the length of the grant, now 5 years, so that over time we can “be there” during different points in their lives where they may need the support.
We are also proud of:
- Hearing about the successes and transformation some young men have made while being in the Seeking Safety program.
- The number of young men that we have been able to reach.
- Relationships that have been built in the community to work together to assist this demographic.
- Determination and passion by the staff to assist these young men.
What new relationship or resource have you found to help move your work forward?
The “Wrapping around” of different community members/businesses/organizations has led to assistance from a number of organizations. We have 10 MOUs with different organizations throughout the community. For instance, Job Corp has been providing referrals and also provided a site for groups. We have held 5 groups at Job Corps so far with continued interest. Other sites include Lifequest Ministries, Steepletown and Baxter Community Center.
Schools have a great need and very supportive staff that are very excited to have the Seeking Safety staff working with the young African American young men at their schools, helping to provide the mentoring, assisting with resources and counseling, which may occur on site. Covenant House Academy South East Career Pathways, and more recently Alger Middle School have been some of the school sites.
Recently, Juvenile Probation Officers have been referring young men into the Seeking Safety program, recognizing the level of trauma that these young people have experienced and hoping that our involvement will keep their probationers on track and avoiding further legal problems.
Other community partners include:
- Meritage (Wendy’s)-provides meal cards, have done practice interviews with the young men, and have been hiring some of the young men.
- Realism is Loyalty- provides emergency needs (hotel room to avert a crisis, boots and/or clothes for a new work opportunity.)
- Local churches providing holiday baskets.
- Hall Street Deli-providing at cost pizzas for Seeking Safety group.
- BP- has provided financial donations to help with basic needs.
- Local barbershops providing free haircuts.
What is something positive a client or partner said about your work related to the SMSV grant?
Participants, family members, and staff at different sites have expressed gratitude for providing the Seeking Safety program and have noticed a difference the program has made.
What have you learned that you will carry with you as you continue this work?
We have had numerous opportunities to learn from other programs on how they are addressing trauma and other issues for young African American men in their communites. This grant has also provided the Seeking Safety program with learning opportunities to apply what we can to programming. We have also had trainings from professionals working with young African American males to assist us in reaching and maintaining engagement with this population.