Sonya Willis & Nik Sloan

nik-sonya-kitchenSonya Willis and Nik Sloan don’t easily accept limits. Not for themselves, and not for the kids at the YOC.

Their Independent Living (IL) program helps teenagers transition into becoming capable adults. As IL Educator, Sonya creates hands on activities that give kids 15 years of age and up empowering experiences. Nik, as IL Coordinator, gives her something to work with.

“My job is to oversee the grand scope of things,” Nik says, “to ensure that we’re finding resources outside of the organization or even within as they relate to independent living skills.”

Then Sonya utilizes these resources – partnerships with local businesses and on campus departments – to create IL activities.

For example, she works with the campus store to give residents realistic work experience.

“They clock in and clock out with me; I’m their supervisor. I let them know these are real job skills because when they’re stocking and doing all those things, that’s exactly what you do in a retail store,” Sonya says.

Gardening, nutrition education, carpentry, off-campus internships and college tours are some of the other experiences Sonya creates for herself or other staff to implement.

“For many kids, these experiences are powerfully transformative.”

One girl Sonya worked with had been rebelling against her treatment and running out of time. She was almost 18 and would be on her own soon. It was critical that she learn how to be a responsible adult before she landed in serious trouble.

Sonya showed this girl how to budget her finances and make wise shopping decisions.

Empowered to expect a more fruitful life, the girl worked her way up from being campus bound to having the freedom to go out and obtain her state ID.

“Once she got into the IL stuff, everything started to turn around. She started to see hope. She started to see that she does have a future,” Sonya says.

Last August, Sonya and Nik put on a Youth Summit, an eight-hour day connecting kids with professionals in their passion areas. An interest survey placed participants in one of six groups: trades, culinary arts, arts and creativity, public safety, computers and sports.

The kids loved it. 100% of participants reported that they learned something, and over 80% indicated they were satisfied with the event. One anonymous resident wrote, “Everything you guys did for us, you pretty much made every girl’s and boy’s day. Thank you so much!”

“That was the best thing we’ve done to this point,” Nik says. “It was people from outside the YOC, people the kids don’t see on a regular basis, coming in to invest in them. That was really beneficial for them to see.”
“They also got to dress up and eat Fazoli’s for the day,” Sonya adds with a chuckle. “They liked that.”

This dynamic duo is looking forward to building on last year’s successes. Job search training will become more realistic with increased access to online tools. New partnerships will allow additional opportunities for residents to obtain paying summer jobs.

None of it would be happening without people like Sonya and Nik believing in the potential of YOC residents. With passion and determination like theirs, there is truly no limit to what these kids can become.