Not so different

CPHHS students and incarcerated youth find similarities, support during community service project

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Assistant Professor Leslie Richard’s Families in Poverty has inspired Tasha Galardi, a PhD student in Human Development and Family Studies, more than once. She was first motivated to consider the HDFS program as a graduate student after completing the course in 2009. Leslie served as her master’s thesis advisor when she did enroll in the program. Tasha’s since taught the class online and recently led a unique community service project with current students.

Prior to the spring term, Tasha presented Leslie with the idea of leading a group of students in a community service project at the all-female Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany. Students in the class are required to complete a service project that involves 20 hours of engagement. Leslie was supportive and enthusiastic, and after receiving the green light Tasha worked with 10 students to supervise the project from planning to fruition.

“I wanted it to be completely collaborative. I didn’t want it to be OSU students teaching Oak Creek girls,” Tasha says. “I wanted it to be that they were all learning together and breaking down any barriers or differences and that they were really in a group experience.”

Tasha says she was hoping for the students and incarcerated girls – ages 13-21 ­– to see how alike they were as they got to know each other on an equal playing field. She says the group found they had many similarities and that a handful of the incarcerated young women are thinking about their futures, including college.

The group – nine on-campus students and one from Ecampus –  visited the 23 incarcerated girls in the facility for three and half hours over four Saturdays. They spent the sessions participating in getting-to-know-you and teambuilding activities, active games, reflective writing and reading the book “Star Girl.” During each session, they also made a craft project. Tasha says that the girls especially enjoyed the craft projects and visiting with the OSU students as they got to know them on a personal level.

For the last part of the project, six young women from Oak Creek’s transition program visited OSU’s campus on May 6. The group spent quality time together and toured campus. They also had fun eating pizza in Waldo and bowling in the Memorial Union.

“This project has been very influential on my aspirations for my professional future. I found that working in a youth correctional facility embodies all that I want for a future career, and this has motivated me to pursue an internship at Oak Creek in the fall,” HDSF student Emily Vitus says. “I loved being able to hear each young woman’s individual story and her goals for the future. I would love to be able to help adolescents such as these young women defeat adversity and accomplish their goals.”

Tasha is currently conducting her dissertation research on the perspectives and experiences of youth correctional facility staff. She also had the opportunity to bring OSU students into both juvenile and adult incarceration facilities while an instructor for OSU classes.

“It was really great to read the girls’ writing, because I felt that exactly what I wanted to happen was accomplished,” she says. “The fact that the girls talked about how the OSU students treated them like normal people, and that they felt inspired that they could go to college because they realized how similar they are to the OSU students was exactly my objective.”

Anonymous feedback collected from the Oak Creek adolescents 

“I really enjoyed meeting the students as well as the instructor. Everything in this group experience was amazing … I looked forward to something new and different each time. It was really fun. Thanks to everyone who came to meet us and spend their time with us. It means a lot!”

“I really liked this group experience. It was a lot of fun and it was meaningful because I really connected with some of these OSU students. They were really interested in me as a human being and all the things I want to do with my life. They didn’t see me as a criminal locked behind bars where my intentions were always bad. They viewed me as a person who made a mistake and is trying to fix it.”

“All my life I wanted to leave the community I was raised in and go to college, to be someone. Hearing how they got to college made an impact on me. I am 19 and I am almost out of here. I want to go to college, and if people are as cool as them, it’s a lot more welcoming … I now have a time in my life I can look back on and say, ‘I too can be like them.’”

“This was cool, and I really appreciate it. I thought at first they may judge, but it was the complete opposite and I realized we all have something in common. I even went to middle school with someone who goes to OSU now, and it was crazy to see him in college and me in jail. But I guess I just took the wrong turn while he didn’t. It was nice knowing we’re not so different and that I could easily be in college someday.”

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