Changing Lives: Organizations In Training
It’s hard enough being a grownup going through stressful times. For kids in difficult situations, whether homelessness or an absent parent, life can become overwhelming, especially if they haven’t developed the right coping skills. That’s where Organizations in Training steps in to help.
The nonprofit mentorship program is an offshoot of Families in Training, an organization founded in 1998 to coach kids with extreme behavioral challenges. FIT has employed nearly a hundred mentors and served more than a thousand families since its inception. Founder and executive director James Giantis launched OIT in 2013 to bring his practical solutions to an even broader group of kids facing adversity.
“I don’t think everybody has a fair shot,” explains Giantis. “Every one of the kids we serve can use a hand up, whether or not they have behavioral issues. We teach the soft skills that many people aren’t taught in the educational system.”
OIT mentors, who are embedded at San Diego schools for group and one-on-one interactions, teach kids what the organization calls the “5 Key Skills”: self-understanding, understanding others, relational skills, goal accomplishment, and self-management. “It’s an effective mindset training system,” says Giantis, who hopes to expand OIT’s fundraising efforts and reach in 2015.
“We provide role models who are calm and gentle and yet know how to set limits and boundaries,” explains Mike Scott, an OIT mentor. “Kids might not have a strong person like that in their lives. Plus we’re really fun to hang out with.”
Scott says that because many of the kids are dealing with pent-up discomfort — troubling emotions such as anger, grief, fear, stress and guilt — they often try to test adults. “They’ll see if we react aggressively or passively like others have in their lives,” Scott says. “We respond in the most productive way possible so they can learn to be their true genuine selves as we guide them to more productive behaviors.”
Marisol Alvarado is the director of student support at Monarch School, a local public school that serves children affected by homelessness. OIT teaches a curriculum there for students in the third through eighth grades.
“OIT responds to the kids in a neutral and supportive way so that students feel more safe to take risks and talk about what’s going on with them and what’s standing in their way,” says Alvarado. “We’ve really integrated them into our school day, and the kids apply OIT training to their outside lives as well.”
Claire*, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Monarch, was struggling with her situation when she first started working with OIT coaches. “Being homeless was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through,” she says. “You have to worry about what you will eat and where you will sleep. I couldn’t ever relax.”
OIT helped Claire deal with her discomfort. “I know how to communicate better now,” she says. “I’m trying to be nicer to people now that I know how to relieve my stress. Without OIT I’d probably be really stressed and rude.”
Trevor*, 15, was abandoned by his physically abusive mother and spent time with his grandmother and in foster care before he was reunited with his mother. With help from OIT, he was able to recognize his mother probably had a similar childhood and that it was up to him and his siblings to break the cycle.
“I learned a lot from hearing stories about how my coaches struggled with similar things,” says Trevor. “If it wasn’t for the relationship I built with the OIT guys, I would be a much different person.” (619.806.2952, www.organizations-in-training.org) ANNAMARIA STEPHENS
*Some names have been changed for privacy