Johara Malcom is the program director for the PSMP program and could not be in a better role to serve the youth of Ithaca and Tompkins County. A native Ithacan, Johara grew up attending the schools she now works in. She also raised four children in the school district. Johara admits to hating school when she was growing up but now can appreciate the importance of making an effort and doing one’s best in school to have choices later on. As a female and person of color, she remembers the assumptions that were made about her and the things she was told she could not do. She knows the issues teens of color and teens in poverty face when going through school without purpose and direction. That’s where she and the PSMP program come in. In her role, Johara helps bridge the gap between PSMP students, their parents, teachers and school staff, and the resources that her students need. Johara knows how difficult it can be for parents to navigate the school system and know where their kids are academically, which is what makes the PSMP program so valuable.
“High school is such a big space to navigate if you don’t fit in with any particular group. Parents can’t be everywhere and teachers aren’t trained in trauma-based behaviors. It’s important for me to know the whole child as they work through the school system.”
Johara is able to make lasting change by being the mentor she needed as a high school student. Not only has Johara been in the same place as many PSMP participants, but she has committed her adult life to making a difference in the human services field. Johara knows the grit that is needed to overcome the challenges of sticking with school and graduation. She worked full-time at a domestic violence shelter while earning her associate degree as the single mom of two kids. Following that, she ran a childcare business and then worked as an assistant in the Ithaca City School District before coming to the Youth Bureau. Later, she attended college full-time, earning her bachelor degree, while also working at the Ithaca Youth Bureau full-time. During this time, she was raising her four children of color and trying to help them as students navigate their experience in the school system. It’s no wonder that Johara is so passionate about sharing her talents and experiences to help youth in Ithaca be successful. Johara focuses on building relationships with the kids and families, building an important level of trust and rapport with them. Because of this strong relationship, PSMP is a life-changing support system for participants and their families.
"This is my dream job. I can focus on building relationships with kids and families that often get left behind because of a lack of resources and accessibility. It’s important that this program exists to bridge that gap and help these students be successful.”
Amanda Jimenez has worked for the Ithaca Youth Bureau her entire working career, starting with the YES program, and moving to Paul Schreurs Memorial Program in 2007 after she earned her culinary degree from SUNY Delhi. Don’t let that degree confuse you; Amanda has a heart for providing opportunity and support to underserved youth.
Amanda believes in each of the program components of PSMP and works to live them out every day for program participants. She earns the trust of not only the students, but their families as well. Many PSMP participants struggled to find their place before they joined the program, and Amanda focuses on helping them feel important, included, and empowered. “I love that we can impact the kids that need us the most. We connect with not only the students but the parents, too,” Amanda says. She prioritizes helping both students and families to feel connected, trusting of their staff, and empowered to put their best foot forward each day, despite the setbacks that may occur. Amanda’s passion for the impact PSMP has on program participants is catching. She emphasizes trust with participants and ensures they are choosing to participate. They feel like they are part of a bigger group, taking ownership and responsibility for their actions, yet feel like they have their own voice and can accomplish anything they decide they want to. PSMP is not a one-size-fits-all program. PSMP staff customize the program to each participant and their family. “I love working for PSMP because we give opportunities to all students. I love to see them flourish into young adults,” she said. “We are able to connect one-on-one with families and students and have an adaptation of the circle of courage,” Amanda said. This is an important part of seeing the whole child and meeting them where they are, a core component of PSMP.
Every student participant is a success story. After 13 years with the program, she can tell more stories of new experiences, “firsts”, lessons learned, and trust built than we could even keep up with. She recalls a group of youth from a few years ago who were inspired by the program leader to put on a miniplay. It was a lot of work and the kids were very nervous, but each students’ strengths came through and made the play a success. They did an incredible job with the final product and were proud of their accomplishment and follow through. Amanda’s enthusiasm for sharing success stories makes her dedication to the students in the PSMP evident. She is committed to their long-term success.