Graduate Leads Youth Guidance Program in Dallas
Youth Guidance, an established non-profit organization founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1924, offers a school-based guidance program to support the mental health and social-emotional needs of students. Today, Youth Guidance (YG) has programs in seven different states helping young people overcome obstacles so they can focus on succeeding in school and life.
The newest expansion of the program in Dallas, Texas is under the guidance of Sabrina Kinslow, LMSW, who was challenged with launching the program from the ground up in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting virtually, Sabrina worked with the national office to build her team and solidify the site's presence in Dallas. “There’s no book on how to lead during a COVID pandemic,” she affirms. “But being able to create something from the ground up has been exciting. I can be creative and innovative with the program.”
Reaching and supporting students has motivated Sabrina to push forward among the unusual challenges facing the Youth Guidance expansion in its first year. “We are leading in unprecedented times,” she declared. “There's so much else going on in this world right now. It’s impacting all of us in different ways.”
But Sabrina wants to keep the needs of marginalized and disadvantaged students at the forefront of people’s minds, noting the importance now more than ever before of supporting youths that have been experiencing a heightened amount and multiple types of stress in recent years. “The pandemic, the social justice reawakening, and the mental health crisis are all front and center. It’s always been there, but now people are paying attention,” she stressed.
Alongside the pandemic, one of Sabrina’s greatest challenges was that the program was completely unknown in Dallas. As a school-based program, one of her most important tasks was to build a relationship with the local school district and educate them about the program’s mission to assist the most at-risk students.
At times, there were doubts that the program would be successful in Texas due to cultural and regional differences; however, Sabrina and her team persevered. By adapting the program and its dynamic youth engagement approach based on their experiences and the school communities where they serve, YG has experienced overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, school admins and the community-at-large.
“Collaborative coaching and guidance have helped our youth specialists think outside the box and figure out how to meet students where they are,” Sabina explained. “For instance, taking time during the lunch hour to go to the lunchroom and engage students via activities that interest them. Our programs are fun, safe, and challenging. We start with the fun as an avenue to build trust and create a welcoming environment. Some youth specialists connected with students before school, while students are waiting for the bell to ring. Others have reached out to teachers to facilitate mini-presentations, during class time, with a focus on activities that spur conversations deeper conversations.”
For Sabrina and her team, it’s about being able to relate to their students in ways that are genuine and sincere. “They are the most authentic people you will find,” she said proudly about her team. “Young people know when you aren’t being authentic and they’re not going to trust you with their hopes or fears. Being our best is an ongoing process, as an organization and as an individual. If we show up like that as adults, it gives our young people the permission to show up as their most authentic selves too.”
And Youth Guidance Dallas’ efforts have paid off.
“The students are engaged and excited to interact with the youth specialists,” shared Sabrina with joy. “The students are cultivating real-time connections. Relationships that will outlast interventions. They are trusting our youth specialists, and their peers, with their deepest truths. That can be a challenge for anyone.” Hearing young people talk about their transformation, renewed sense of hope, and positive outlook for the future remains one of Sabrina’s favorite things about the organization and her role.
This has held true throughout most of her life and career. Sabrina noted that early on, she was propelled by her helping nature to work with children, even in childhood. Her desire to help young people found even greater focus during the last year of her undergraduate studies at Florida State University when she took an extra course in social work which focused on the child welfare system. The course changed the very trajectory of her career goals. She found herself drawn to the child welfare field, rather than her original goal of studying neuropsychology. Her first job in the child welfare system made her fall more deeply in love with the field and she realized how much work needed to be done for kids in the system. She has never stopped advocating for children ever since.
“It’s where my purpose and passion intersect – positively impacting the lives of the people I serve. I have a voice. I have a platform. I have this position where I can be an advocate,” she said emphatically. “Three words that remind me of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it are to educate, advocate and inspire. It’s the thread that weaves my personal and professional values together.”
Sabrina’s ultimate mission is to educate people to use their voices to advocate for themselves and to reach their goals. She sees this mission as one that is not just confined to young people but as a part of her personal mission to inspire her staff and community.
When asked to give a word of advice to current students and recent MSW graduates, she stressed the importance of having a therapist or friendly ear and a support group to get through tough times. “Have your very own board of directors that will uplift you and support you,” she continued, noting that progression, growth, and empowerment stem from both the people in your life and your own efforts.
Graduating with her MSW in 2018, Sabrina has rapidly embraced opportunities to combine her passion and talents for child welfare and nonprofit work to great success. Reminding her fellow and future social workers to remember a quote by Thasunda Brown Duckett, “I rent my title, but I own my character.”
“No matter what title you have, you own who you are, your character, that's who you're showing up as every day. That’s what people remember about you and that’s how you truly have a voice to spark change, shape the culture, and make real progress.”