Self-Care and Creativity Fuel Flint’s Future

This is a guest post from Dominique Washington, one of Diplomat’s 2017 Fellows. Diplomat’s Fellowship for Social Impact brings young adults from across the nation to create sustainable change in Flint, Michigan, through research, social impact, and service projects.

 My First Impressions of Flint

I first visited Flint this past winter and came to know the people—and weather conditions. Let’s just say the people brought me back.

I was amazed at the work underway to reinvigorate the city of Flint. It seemed everyone was committed to bettering their city and the lives of its residents—something I rarely see in other cities. I wanted to be a part of that narrative, so I applied for the Diplomat Fellowship for Social Impact.

Through the Fellowship, I am partnering with Whaley Children’s Center to develop an Independent Living Skills Program. It focuses not only on basic living skills but also on promoting self-care and self-expression.

If you know anything about Whaley, you know it does incredible work for children in the foster care system—providing meals; educational and psychiatric support; fun activities; job opportunities; and, most importantly, a loving home.

But something was missing: a plan for the children aging out of the foster care system. That’s where I come in.

Commitment to Cultivating Self-Care

I’ve spent the past few years in Atlanta, Georgia, studying comparative women’s studies and anthropology at Spelman College. In my spare time, I’ve worked with youth from Atlanta’s inner-city communities, many of whom have experienced neglect. This could be attributed to income inequality; Atlanta ranks first among U.S. cities for disparity between classes. Families struggle to care for their children while working for minimum wage.

Children lacking family support deserve attention to help them reach their potential. Without encouragement, it’s challenging for kids to cultivate interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, and success.

To help, I tutor youth in need, teach them about future career options, and equip them with emotional resources to navigate the world. These resources can come from one-on-one counseling and mentorship or from teaching new and fun methods of self-care. Self-care has become a crucial part of my work, and it has brought incredible results.

I wanted to bring this self-care focus and method to Whaley’s children, who reminded me so much of the teens I worked with in Atlanta. In fact, my experience was a huge factor in my choice to work with the Whaley youth. Though I haven’t initiated many program ideas yet, I am learning about these teens and the city they call home.

Helping Teens Embrace Their Passions and Make a Mark

Since getting to know the youth at Whaley’s, I’ve determined that self-care means investing in their personal interests. Many of these teens had their childhoods taken from them. They were robbed of the opportunity to develop themselves—for themselves. This is the difficulty of my job: convincing kids who have given up that there is more out there for them than hardships. I want to encourage them to embrace all the parts of themselves that make them whole. They need to learn they are more than their past; their interests and passions will fuel their future.

To make this dream a reality, Whaley Children’s Center and Diplomat will support a mural on South Saginaw Street. This mural will give the teens a chance to learn about art as a career, as well as to express themselves and their story.

To help inspire them, the teens will attend “Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown.” This event, sponsored by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, will allow them to explore what this city has to offer. I hope this experience will encourage them to dive deeper into self-exploration and discover what truly makes them happy.

Moving Forward

I’m grateful to have such an amazing opportunity to make a difference. I’ve gotten to know this great city and its people, tasted the amazing food, and made lifelong connections. As I move forward with the program, I hope to change these children’s lives for the better—starting and ending with what matters to them most.

Dominique Washington, 2017 Diplomat Fellow


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