Chris Parsons

Launching an initiative like Getting Ahead is a daunting challenge. One strategy is to launch a campaign to build interest in the program. Another might be to spend countless hours meeting with community gatekeepers and power brokers who can provide access to the target population. There is another strategy–the changed lives of the individuals who attend the program. Nothing speaks louder than a life that has been changed. This is a testimony of the power of one.

A few years ago, Dekida was referred to the City Mission’s Family Life Center by the Schenectady City Drug Court. She had also recently given birth to a beautiful baby and more than anything else, she wanted to keep her daughter in her life. Dekida opened to becoming aware of and embracing opportunities for change.

In 2009, the Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World class became one of those opportunities. Week after week during the investigations, Dekida opened her mind to new information. There were many days when she openly wept during the class as she realized that so much of what she believed was not true.

Being exposed to truth helped her to recognize her distorted views and to replace them. She embraced the opportunity to heal the hurt that had been the basis for many of her decisions and actions. Dekida willingly began to embrace the opportunity to heal and to change. This renewal process was demonstrated in her relationship with her drug court counselor. Initially, their relationship was adversarial. Dekida did not trust anyone in authority. She feared that if she was vulnerable, sharing information about herself, she would place herself and her daughter in danger. Dekida had a great fear of having her daughter taken away from her.

The deterioration of the relationship between Dekida and her counselor created situations that lead to sanctions, including being incarcerated for a short period of time. It was through the Getting Ahead investigation on resources that Dekida began to see the drug court team, especially her counselor, as a resource. After she experienced this aha moment, she once again embraced the opportunity to change. Dekida began to reach out to the team, to share her struggles, to ask for their assistance. She began to trust not only the drug court team but other providers in her life.

The change in Dekida caught the attention of the judge. He was so impressed with the difference in her behavior and attitude that he wanted to know what she was involved in. City Mission staff shared about the Getting Ahead class and Dekida presented Getting Ahead to the judges. The powerful transformation of one drug court participant opened the door for others involved in city (misdemeanor) and county (felony) drug courts to become a part of Getting Ahead.

The City Mission of Schenectady began offering Getting Ahead to city/county drug court participants in 2010 to reduce recidivism. Fifteen drug court participants have graduated from Getting Ahead.

This is the power of one changed life. It can become the beginning of a changed community that changes the legacy it leaves to all of its children.

Chris Parsons has been serving at the City Mission of Schenectady since 1996. Currently she is serving as the Director of the ASPIRE Program at the City Mission of Schenectady.  ASPIRE is an acronym for Achieving Sustainability through Personal Investment and Resource Enrichment. Chris is a certified trainer in both Bridges out of Poverty and Getting Ahead.