Shuffling through cards, Christina Athineos ’14 drew one out and read aloud what was written on it. In response to what was read, the children present who shared that goal began to raise their hands; a ball of string was guided through each hand and made its way around to form a web.
The exercise, known as “Strung Together,” was designed to show a connection between the children in sharing similar goals. Athineos and other TCNJ students developed it while working at the Shiloh Community Development Corporation in Trenton, NJ, as part of their class, Counseling and Clinical Seminar: Mental Health and Poverty. The course, taught by Associate Professor of Psychology He Len Chung, required students to form partnerships with Shiloh and PEI Kids’ Comprehensive Juvenile Offender Outreach Services in an effort “to help students gain a better understanding of how poverty and mental health issues impact youths’ lives,” said Chung.
The students spent 17 to 20 hours with their assigned group and helped develop programs that were then put into use.
“The adults in charge clearly wanted our support and ideas,” Athineos said. “(Things) we suggested were put to use almost immediately. It was really rewarding to see our ideas implemented so quickly.”
One of the areas that Jerome Harris, chief operating officer of Shiloh, was looking for help in was improving the self-esteem of the children participating in his program. So Chung’s students—who, Harris said, “Brought a lot of energy”—developed research questions to address that concern as well as ways to track development.
“We took Shiloh’s mission of improving the lives of these kids and focused it inward, toward improving their self-esteem,” Athineos said. “To us, it seemed like the kids felt poorly about themselves because they were constantly being bullied at school. We developed activities that highlighted each child’s strengths and made them realize that they were talented individuals.”
Although her group realized that were was “no easy solution or way out,” and that they could not fix all the children’s problems during their time working with Shiloh, Athineos believes she and her classmates made a positive impact.
“I really feel like [we] played influential leadership roles while we were there,” she said.