Dad turns into a hip-hop Zombie

Happy Father's day!

Deo has been working as a coach for the E3 Teen Father program through the New Hampshire Department of Education. The program focuses on helping the teen father graduate from school, gain employment and learn fatherhood competencies through individual personalize success plans. Deo helped design the implementation portion of the program through a partnership with the National Center of Competency Based Learning. Below are the outcomes of this program:

Improved co-parental relationship with the mother of their child and the improved ability to co-parenting
Increased satisfaction with their co-parent and an awareness of their own parenting philosophy;
Increased parenting and co-parenting skills;
Increased their involvement with their child;
Earned their high school diploma and the capacity to apply to an institute of higher education if desired;

Gained the experience to obtain a ‘living wage” position.

    • Effectively reach their goals by learning how to set goals;
    • Plan and follow through on self-determined tasks;
    • Understand their unique learning approach;
    • Be capable of utilizing their knowledge to successfully meet their educational goals;
    • Discover how their efforts and values connect to their goals and learning approach; and,
    • Identify resources in their network and tap into these resources to achieve their goals.

Why I chose to work instead of playing sports in High School

 

I was raised by a single mother and, as the eldest of five children, I felt a special obligation to help shoulder the financial burdens created by my personal expenses. So, at age 12, I became a boy on a mission—or, more accurately, a boy who needed to raise money to go on a mission. But how? Well, it turned out that our church’s membership included many business owners, one of whom, an electrician, graciously offered me an opportunity to perform small jobs for his company. At the age of 12!

In short order, I was hooked, thrilled to be able to earn my own money. I worked for this kind man whenever he needed extra help to demo products or to carry supplies and tools for his crew. I enjoyed learning from him and his team. Electricians work very fast. They don’t mess around. I saw how precise and committed they were and that work ethic inspired and grew in me. I wanted to prove I was part of the team and be recognized by the crew as a hard worker.

I made a minimum of $7 an hour, which was enough for me to feel accomplished. Most of the time, I worked weekends or during summer breaks. I remember always being super tired after work. I would go home, shower, eat and pass out. It was hard work by itself. But I was also in middle school at the time and very involved with after school activities. I was an avid soccer player. I played for the JV team in 7th grade and the varsity in 8th grade. My plan was to continue to play in high school.

Cleaning Company

In the summer after 8th grade, a church friend asked if I would be interested in working with him. He worked for another gentleman at my church who owned a cleaning company. Recently, an employee had left and the company now needed someone to help my friend clean college dorm rooms at a local college. I was up for it, because this felt more like a real job. I worked 8:00 am to 4:00 pm every day for a few weeks. It was great working with my friend. We developed a close friendship, even though he was three years older than I was. Like the electrician and his crew, my friend did not mess around. He took his responsibilities very seriously. Every morning, he’d go over our tasks. He knew all the different cleaning products and which one worked best for a particular chore. It always amazed me how fast he cleaned.

The work wasn’t fun, but we made the best out of it. The demands were athletic. You were always changing positions—kneeling, sloshing, climbing and moving things around in order to thoroughly clean them. Playing music on a radio helped the time go by and turned the whole process into a kind of dance. In fact, sometimes I would bust some dance moves while cleaning. I admired my friend’s work ethic. We both knew this was only a temporary gig and that we’d grow out of it. Most of the time my fingers were sore at the end of the day from scrubbing stickers and leftover poster board paper from the walls. But I was grateful for the job. For a 13-year-old kid, it was a good experience and decent money.

After the dorm-cleaning job finished, I was still contacted by the cleaning company whenever they needed extra help. I always accepted, but eventually, this led to conflicts. With summer came freshman soccer tryouts. I avoided getting a physical so I could continue to work and make money. When school started, I decided to stop by practice to speak to the coach about playing. He said it was too late and would have to wait until the following year. I was not that upset. For my entire freshman year, I was now free to work for the electrician and the cleaning company whenever my help was needed.

In the summer before my sophomore year, I was again asked to work part time for the cleaning company. It would be my friend’s last year because he was going to college in the fall. I jumped at the chance and said goodbye soccer. At times I thought about playing soccer but making money and providing for myself was more important. My responsibilities included two hospital locations and a music store warehouse. There was also lots of post-construction cleaning. Some of the houses we cleaned were really impressive.

Curiosity and Relationship Building

I enjoyed working with the owner. Not only did he run a good company, he was good company. He always liked to jam out to jazz music on our rides to the sites and back to the office. I learned a lot from him about business. Speed and precision were always key. But we also had to be friendly and patient with our customers. I learned how to be more responsive—a skill that would come in handy later in my life. I also developed relationships with some regular customers. I shared my aspirations with them. One man owned a chain of music stores. We became good friends and remain so today. We’ve even worked on some education initiatives together.

After my sophomore year, I played soccer for my high school summer team. It was a lot of fun. I had a great relationship with the coach. He was one of the assistant principals at my high school. His constant encouragement revived my love of the game. I was surprised that I was still able to keep up with the guys who had played during the time I missed. But once summer was done I continued to work for the cleaning company rather than pursue soccer. It was my junior year. I needed to make money and came to depend on the income. But I didn’t like the work any better. On Tuesdays, I cleaned at a hospital, which included vacuuming a very long walkway from the indoor garage. Not fun.

Most of my close friends played basketball for the high school team. I enjoyed working out with them, but I was not the best basketball player. Nevertheless, in November I thought of trying out for the team. The problem was I needed a physical. By the time I got it, there was only one more tryout—on a Tuesday night! So I asked my friends to bring me to the hospital to do my routine cleaning. I rushed the entire time and did not wear my work gear. Meanwhile, my friends were waiting outside. When I was almost done, my boss entered the building. Naturally, the first thing he said was, “Where’s your work shirt?” Then he said, “Doesn’t look like you cleaned the window right.”

Decision time

This time sports won. I told him I quit, which might not have been the best decision rationally. But I was sick of always missing out because of work and sacrificing everything else in the process. When I got into the car, I told my friends I quit my job. They were surprised and laughed. At the tryout, I demonstrated the required agility, but in the end did not make the team. Did I feel bad about it? No. How could I? I had only made it to one tryout; everyone else had attended all three. I was just happy to tryout with my friends. A few days later, my mother dropped me off to see my old boss. I needed to pick up my last check. He was very nice and even took the time to provide some extra mentoring. I thanked him for the opportunity to work for him.

Working for Mr. Tux

It did not take long before I got another job. By February of my junior year, I was working for Mr. Tux/Men’s Wearhouse as a sales associate. The company needed to hire high school students to push their prom promotion deals. My marketing teacher referred me to the job. I was ecstatic when I was hired. I was the youngest person in my location. I worked 3:30 pm to 8:00 pm weekdays and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturdays. The work pace at Mr. Tux was faster than the cleaning company. Plus, I had to dress up everyday because the work was customer facing. And since it was a sales job, I always had to find opportunities to upsell our tuxedos.

Two managers provided training. One focused on relationship building; the other on the product. The one who focused on relationships was more effective. So I made that my sales strategy too. A good percentage of our sales came from booking weddings. Working with the groom and bride was always interesting. The groom never had much to say. It was the bride, mother of the bride, or mother of the groom who made all the decisions. Still, I made sure the groom had input. Even if it was only deciding the shirt style, or choosing between a conventional tie and a bow tie. I learned the backend of managing a retail store, closing, balancing the register, depositing checks and dealing with unsatisfied customers.

Mr. Tux/Men's Wearhouse stores were located nationwide. Sometimes folks would call in, fax, or email us their measurements. That caused some problems if the tux did not fit when they came to pick it up. But we always had a two-day window to make adjustments. I learned how to be resourceful. Sometimes we literally saved weddings by delivering the tuxedos ourselves the night before. Once we dropped them off on the wedding day! Those were fun times. I worked for Mr. Tux/Men's Wearhouse for several years, including when I was in college.

What I learned from my Experiences! 

Working has been a rewarding experience for me. I earned decent wages, but more importantly, I learned life skills—better communication strategies, conflict resolution and presentation skills among them. I started working at a young age for a singular purpose—to make the money I needed to go on a church mission trip. But what I eventually learned was so much bigger than one job and one event.

The jobs I mentioned here are just some that conflicted with playing sports. And I do regret that I was not able to find a balance between work and soccer. But what I learned from my early work experiences shaped the approach to my post-college career. I am very grateful for the business owners at my church who took me under their wing and taught me the value of hard work. I am also grateful for the relationships I developed—from the folks whose offices I cleaned to the customers I served at Mr. Tux/Men's Wearhouse. Abruptly quitting the cleaning job was not the best decision I ever made, but the eventual result was well worth it.

 

 

 

 

How a community embraced a family of refugees and changed its trajectory

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Our flight from Benin to New York City carried 250 refugees. We arrived at JFK Airport on February 17, 2000. Things were happening very fast. In two hours we would board a small airplane headed to Manchester, New Hampshire. All we knew about New Hampshire was that it was close to Boston. It felt surreal to actually be in America. There were five of us—my three brothers, my mother and myself. At nine, I was now the patriarch of the family. We had spent the last two years living as refugees in the small West African country of Benin. Of our fellow passengers, we were the only ones going to New Hampshire.

The airplane to New Hampshire had just 30 passengers. For the entire flight my mother’s arm was draped across the shoulders of my two youngest brothers, Destin, age two, and Gedeon, age three. I set next to Vinny, who was seven. I kept thinking about the vast cement and asphalt city of New York as we flew over a wilderness of trees covered with snow. I wondered if we would be the only African family going to this place.

A man’s voice over the intercom filled the cabin. He spoke in English and, since our grasp of the language was minimal, we did not know what he was saying. As the airplane descended, we saw roads and small houses.

“Is this it?” I asked my mother. She did not know. Snow covered everything and there were no tall buildings.

The airplane landed and we were the last ones to disembark. I was entrusted with our blue and white IOM (International Organization for Migration) bag. Given to us by the UN at the refugee camp, the bag contained all of our refugee documentations and destination information. Without it we would be lost—literally and figuratively. We were told to keep the bag visible throughout our travels.

A whole new world

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There was no passenger bridge, so we had to walk outside to get to the terminal. It was bone-chilling cold. Inside we were welcomed by Moraud, a specialist from Lutheran Services (now Ascentria Care—based in Concord NH). Originally from Morocco, Moraud spoke French. We felt more at ease thanks to his warm greeting and ability to communicate with us. He told us we would stay in temporary housing until our place was ready the following day.

Our apartment in Manchester had three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. It was furnished with second-hand furniture in good condition. Our cabinets and fridge had food purchased by Moraud with funds from Lutheran Services. A few trash bags contained second-hand clothes. My brothers and I sorted through the clothes and picked the ones we liked. We were excited to settle down in our apartment.

So was my mother. She had no possessions to give us, but she had something better. “I have nothing to give you but guidance,” she said. And with that guidance, she assured us, she would help us find whatever opportunities this country offered us.

Sister Irene The Angel

Lutheran Services showed us around during our first few days in New Hampshire. They took us to hospital appointments, grocery shopping, immigration appointments and enrolled us in social welfare programs. My mother was enrolled in ESOL classes. We found a local Catholic church, Saint Anthony’s, a few streets from our home. We met some awesome people at Saint Anthony’s. By our second week in Manchester, many people had welcomed us.

The first person we met was Sister Irene. She visited us with a box of food and trash bags of clothes. She became one of our closest friends and introduced us to many people. She spoke French and helped my family very much. Every day we had people knocking on our door. Most of our new friends were French Canadian families who had lived in Manchester for generations. Among them were the Bessonettes, who basically adopted my family. We called the two grandparents Papa and Mama Bessonette. They had a vast immediate family in Manchester and the surrounding towns. Between the Bessonettes and Sister Irene, we felt welcomed and loved by the people of Manchester. Furthermore, we were fortunate to meet some other African families who resettled in New Hampshire. They came from Burundi, Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia.

By the third week, my brother Vinny and I enrolled at a local elementary school which was one mile from my house. My two younger brothers started daycare. My mother continued going to the ESOL classes. But the excitement of moving to America began to dwindle the longer we settled in. And we began to experience the challenge of starting from scratch in a new country—with no family or money, unable to speak the native language, and not having a driver’s license or a car. While we lived in a great location, close to a Walgreens Pharmacy and Vista Foods grocery store, everything else was à la carte. For transportation we relied on taxis, friends, and sometimes the Lutheran Services. Public transportation in Manchester was not the best. When my mother realized the money she was getting from the social services was not enough to support us, she stopped going to the ESOL classes and, with the help of Lutheran Services, found a job at a local factory. She was able to coordinate rides with some of her co-workers and in return paid for the transportation.

Our first month in New Hampshire was not easy, but we were able to acclimate and find help when we needed it from a circle of about 50 people. Sister Irene was the angel from heaven who oversaw much of this help. She gave my mother strength and advocated for us in many areas when Lutheran Services support tapered off. During our first summer, Sister Irene coordinate with volunteers to drive my brothers and me around while my mother was at work. One family even took Vinny and me to a summer program. Another family took my two brothers to daycare. We were never alone.

Sister Irene was the impetus behind our first-year successes and breakthroughs. She spent a lot of her time getting to know us and customized her support based on what worked for us. By February of 2001, a year later after arriving in NH, we had a community of friends we called family. We no longer had Lutheran Services supporting us. Most resettlement agencies support new refugees for three to six months. Sister Irene taught us how to be resourceful.

The Bessonettes, the family who adopted us

We became part of the Bessonette family. They were strong and giving people. On most holidays and birthdays they brought us to their home and blessed us with gifts, love, and encouragement. On her 27th birthday, my mother was surprised with a celebration. Everyone brought her gifts, and she had a large cake. My mother was very happy that day. She had gone through a lot of trauma helping my family get out of the Congo, and was particularly grateful to have the Bessonette women for moral and mental support. Mama Bessonette always had her back. We were all overwhelmed by the Bessonettes’ kindness.

It took my mother four months to get her license after we moved to Manchester. This, along with having a car, was a major milestone for my family. It built our confidence and gave us encouragement. Now we had our own vehicle to go places. It meant more freedom and more access to the things we wanted to do. And it would not have been possible without the Bessonette family’s encouragement and support. They dedicated their time to teach my mom how to parallel park and risked their own credit by co-signing her loan. At the end of 2000, we spent Christmas at the Bessonettes. Their immediate family totaled 35.

The Bessonette family showed us unconditional love that helped us heal the many wounds we brought with us to New Hampshire.

I found Congo in New Hampshire through music

As our circle grew, we continued to make progress adjusting to New Hampshire life. We were also becoming more self-sufficient. The ability of my brothers and me to speak English improved tremendously. My first two years of school were spent in ESOL classrooms. Many of my friends were from Sudan, the Dominican Republic, Bosnia, Mexico, and Uruguay. We were all trying to learn English and adapt to America. Extracurricular activities like sports, music, and performance allowed us to integrate with native students.

In fall 2001, I started sixth grade at McLaughlin Middle School. I was in an ESOL class for most of the day but was able to take other classes with native students. In sixth grade, I joined the orchestra. I enjoyed learning music and how to play the viola. Under the guidance of my teachers, we started a bongos percussion ensemble and performed at different school events with the orchestra. It was an awesome experience. I was able to utilize my drum skills from growing up in the Congo. I am grateful to my orchestra teachers for the opportunities they gave me. It was the beginning of my involvement in extracurricular activities.

Middle School at Saint Joseph—I don’t want to tuck my shirt in

When Sister Irene saw how I excelled in certain areas in my learning, she thought I should attend a private school. She worked very hard to advocate for me to attend Saint Joseph, a private middle school with students from all over New Hampshire. I was accepted and began in seventh grade. My mother thought Saint Joseph was a better place for me to study, but I did not want to go. At Saint Joseph, we had to wear uniforms and tuck in our shirts. And no jeans! There were no ESOL classes either and diversity was very low. There was only one other black student and one biracial kid—half black, half white. On the first day of school, I fought with my mother because I did not want to tuck my shirt in. She dropped me off, but wouldn’t drive away until I tucked in my shirt.

But I misjudged Saint Joseph. It ended up being one of the best environments for me to learn and engage. I discovered a lot about myself in 7th and 8th grade. The school ignited my inner creativity. I felt very welcomed by the teachers and my classmates. I joined the soccer team and loved it. The administration encouraged me to pursue dance and music. I formed a dance team, and we performed at school events. I was not the best student academically, but I worked very hard. I spent twice the time doing certain assignments as my classmates. On the plus side, my English continued to improve. Even better, I made lifelong friends. My friends’ parents were very welcoming, too. They would always give me a ride home. Sometimes they even covered extracurricular costs my mother could not afford.

Overcoming Depression

Even though I had a great experience at Saint Joseph, middle school was a very dark period for me. I dealt with depression, anger, and suicidal thoughts. The more comfortable I was adjusting to America, the more my past experiences with the civil war in the Congo haunted and tortured me. I would share stories with my classmates about the atrocities I experienced. Some were open to learning, but others didn’t care or understand the magnitude of my family’s ordeal. Through prayers and focusing on things that built my confidence and kept me engaged, I was able to have some breakthroughs.

Church Family

Church always played an important role in my family’s successful acculturation. We ended up changing to a non-denominational Pentecostal church called Believers Christian Outreach Church. This church was more aligned with what we had known. It was critical to my emotional development during my resettlement. Believers treated us as family. In fact, my Pastor, John Fortin, and the elders—Nick Dager, Harry Shepler, Norm Hebert, and Ron Cote—treated me like a son. They mentored me. When I needed help, they stepped in and cared for me unconditionally. They even helped me develop a sense of responsibility by giving me work at their businesses and yard work. The extra money freed my mother from worrying about her inability to buy me the things she thought an American boy should have.

The pastor and church elders helped me to see possibilities I could not see on my own. I also met some awesome women—JoAnn Trombly, Michelle Dager, Barbara Shepler, Darla Freeborn, Anna Hebert, and Celeste Fortin—who were also very nurturing. It was like having a group of mothers who had my back. JoAnn Trombly was my youth group leader. She worked with my mother to help her see the value of my involvement with different activities. I remember calling JoAnn and crying to her about how depressed I was and how I could not escape my bad memories. She always had great words of encouragement and helped me find activities that cleared my mind of self-destructive thoughts.

At the end of middle school, I overcame many of my personal challenges. I came out a very different person than when I started. My church and Saint Joseph families were critical in building my confidence, encouraging my creativity, and making me feel like I belonged. I developed a strong self-confidence and drive. My community in Manchester gave me a seat at the table to be me. I felt grounded and knew I would have support in whatever direction I chose to go. And of course having the support of my own family during those first four years of living in Manchester provided me with a strong foundation for what I hoped to accomplish.

In so many ways I was lucky to come to America when I did. Today refugees and immigrants are marginalized. They feel—and are—unwelcome too often. People come to America because they want the opportunity for a better life. It’s not an easy process. Refugees must endure a long and tough vetting process. Case review takes a minimum of 32 months to resettle once selected. Refugees have less than a 5 percent chance to resettle in western countries. Diseases and sometimes blood types prevent people from being selected. For those who are chosen, it’s a dream come true. The average time spent in a refugee camp is ten years. By the time refugees move to their final destination, many are starting from scratch with nothing except the dream of a better life. It is our duty as American citizens to provide a welcoming community. This will not only increase the success trajectory of refugees. It will encourage refugees to contribute positively to your community.

I leave you with these thoughts: Your ancestors came to this country to find a better life. Along the way, they relied on help from their communities to succeed. That success trickled down to the privilege and access you have today. How can you get involved and contribute to a positive trajectory of refugees’ success in your community, town, city and state? Find out today.

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