CEO’s roots are firmly planted within the halls of Regis University with our founder’s connections to the Jesuit institution as well as several CEO staff members and volunteers. The Regis student body is extremely active at CEO participating in student learning/community programs throughout the school year. Many students remain with CEO after their studies are completed.
This is a collection of papers submitted by Regis University students based on their experiences working with CEO staff and clients. Topic areas include Character Sketches, Mission In Action and Critical Incident Reports.
A CEO Mission in Action
Fatima Estrada Rascon – Regis University
Note: A Mission In Action Report relates a student’s experience or small set of connected experiences from their time at CEO which depicts the “mission in action” and provides the reader with a clear perception or vital impression of the beliefs or values espoused by CEO as an institution. I.E. CEO ‘talks the talk’ – how do they ‘walk the walk’? (This is the ninth report in the Regis 2014 Series)
“From my experience at the CEO men’s facility last year, I could share a handful of success stories that I was privileged with experiencing. I was constantly challenged and impressed by men with limited background in education who quickly excelled in the material that I was tutoring them on.
The men seemed to share a desire and enthusiasm for receiving a GED and educational opportunities that they had not had before. This year at the CEO women’s facility I was equally impressed by the women’s ability and understanding of the material. Yet, despite the obvious knowledge and ability of most of the women in the facility, I did not sense the same enthusiasm or desire for the educational opportunities that CEO is providing.
I would often receive apathetic responses when I would ask the women in the facility if they needed help. Every so often, a woman allows me to sit down with her and work through problems. They have all been grateful and responsive to the help, but when I congratulate them for their great work and ask what the next steps are I often receive a frustrated response. For a lot of the women the GED is too expensive and they don’t see how they will be able to afford it, or some ladies admitted to just trying to get through the required hours since the GED seemed unobtainable with its increased difficulty.
At first, I was wasn’t sure how to respond the first times that I heard these responses since the men I knew previously were always advocating for getting the GED. I soon realized that the GED had changed at the beginning of the year into a more expensive and difficult electronic test. It no longer seem realistic to expect most of the women to be able to afford the test or be confident about passing it since it was suddenly demanding a lot more.
I have always admired CEO for the hope and attention that it provides a community that is, unfortunately, often ignored or rejected by society. It was disappointing to see how institutional changes were affecting the mission of CEO. The staff at CEO have not given up or stopped believing in the ability of their clients, but it is hard to see the clients lose hope because of the changes to the GED.
Despite these changes, CEO has not lost its commitment to building personal relationships that help foster independence among at risk adults. The trans-formative potential of education is still apparent at CEO, but it is unfortunate to see how much this is delayed for most clients due to institutional changes that are out of CEO’s control.
What CEO does best is provide incomparable services that give hope and encouragement to marginalized individuals. They will always continue to do this, and I strongly believe that the attention at CEO has the potential to overcome all obstacles that are put in the way of adult education.”
A CEO Critical Incident Report
by Jon Zahidi – Regis University
“I actually have been very lucky to work with Mr. Lucky over the past couple of weeks. We did a mock interview as he is applying for a job. After the interview we went over his performance and talked a little more about his stay at ICCS and life in general. What he told me totally shook the reason why I am there at ICCS.
Mr. Lucky will never forget the day when a guard told him that his mother and two daughters were killed in a house fire. He will also never forget the day, approximately one year later, after he was released from prison, when he found out that it wasn’t true.
After being released from his one-year sentence in a maximum security prison in Alabama, he was then transferred to Colorado Department of Corrections. Now he is serving his time at CEO and also being helped through the programs they offer. He made a Facebook account during his stay at ICCS. To his surprise, within a few days he had received friend requests from his two now grown up daughters. The 40 years old father of two now is busy trying to get his GED and apply to a community college.
He says that this experience made him stronger and a person that will not fall again. One thing that shook me as I listened to his fascinating story was that he told me, it is not how you fall, but rather how you stand up. I think as Mr. Lucky goes forth in trying to set his life on the right path, his daughters and family will be so proud of him. I will go forth keeping this basic idea in mind that my fall does not have to determine my future. I can always get up and walk again. CEO is the tool that is helping Mr. Lucky to in order for him to walk again in the society.”
A CEO Character Sketch Report
by Rebecca Yohannes – Regis University
“Michael Ryan, an educator, and a leader, is one of the inspiring supervisors at the RECC. Michael is energetic, compassionate, knowledgeable and ambitious. Michael is a rare human being to come across; he is always full of life – one that never keeps the room dull with his inspiring, yet humorous stories. He attains a kind of knowledge that extends for miles on end. Whether he shares his stories about his military experience, camping advice, or his insights on worldly affairs, one can learn many lessons about their own life just by listening to what he has to say. Michael has many talents, however his interpersonal skills are incredible. Michael can relate to people with minimal effort – he treats everyone as an equal, whether it’s his clients, co-workers, or volunteers, it is easy to find common ground with Michael, which contributes in building a strong relationship with him.
Michael is an Irish man from Buffalo, New York. He grew up in a rough area, where it is seen to be a great accomplishment to get out of the neighborhood. Michael has many past experiences that has contributed to the person he is today, however his previous teaching experiences contributes to why he is at the RECC and what he does there. Michael began his teaching career as a substitute teacher at Valley High school, a small rural high school, with a variety of people who attained a strong agricultural interest.
Although Michael specialized in English, History and Special Education he had to teach several other subjects as a substitute teacher. Ultimately, Michael’s goal was to become a full time teacher, and he achieved that goal when he got a full time position at an alternative school in Brighton, CO. Michael had to work with children who had behavioral issues, but were given a second chance to succeed with their education. This experience taught him a lot more about patience, and classroom management. Unfortunately Michael was just three years away from reaching his tenure, and due to budget cuts he was laid off from his position. After being laid off, Michael decided to go to graduate school and specialize in adult education. When Michael finished graduate school, some friends of his referred him to the RECC, and a simple visit turned into a career.
Michael faces several challenges at the RECC, one of the recent challenges being the new 2014 GED test; this test places a strong emphasis on critical thinking, which doesn’t come naturally for some, and is a skill that can take several years to acquire. Michael’s challenge is to teach others how to infer and identify inference. Michael is most concerned about his clients, and he genuinely cares about their success. Michael constantly worries about the group of people who will not get their GED – he believes that the doors will be closed for them and is frustrated when sees instability and the downfall of his clients, especially when they are becoming successful. Not only does the 2014 GED pose a challenge for Michael, but also there are several threats posed at the RECC.
Real estate is a commodity, and the RECC faces the threat of their real estate to be taken away from them, due to the idea of having more parole officer offices in their space. Job stability is also a concern for Michael. There is a constant threat of the RECC personnel being laid off, however Michael believes that the threat of being laid off causes employees to constantly stay sharp in their work, and preform to their best ability. Michal eventually hopes to go back to school and become a college professor, however he “doesn’t know how he could possibly leave the RECC”. Michael is an ambitious being, well involved in his work, and has an immense passion for what he does at the RECC. Michael wants his clients to be successful, and he will do anything he can in order to ensure that they achieve that success.”
A CEO Critical Incident Report
by Hanna Winter – Regis University
Over this spring semester, I have really enjoyed volunteering at the Intervention Corrections Services (ICCS) West Women’s facility. This experience was exceptional and there have been many moments that have really helped me change the way that I see everything about my life. I also gained great respect and appreciation for those living at the facility. One particular week I was touched so much by what I experienced that I believe it will impact my life and help to shape my future path.
As usual, Ashley and I were hanging out at the Community Educational Outreach (CEO) center one morning in between helping some ladies and Melissa, one of the supervisors, asked us to do a mock interview for one of the ladies. She needed practice before her real interview the next day and we were happy to help. Melissa gave us some pointers and also a list of questions to ask the lady during the interview. I was a little nervous, but I honestly didn’t think that it would be that difficult because I have been interviewed a few times in my life and I think I did really well during those times.
However, as the lady came in and we started the interview, I soon realized that I truly had no idea what I was doing and how to conduct an interview. It truly was a learning experience for all of us but the most interesting part was that the lady being interviewed was actually helping me. I was supposed to help her prepare for her interview the next day and here she was helping me lead an interview for her. It definitely was a great experience for me to be able to feel what it is like being the interviewer. However, what really affected me about this moment is the fact that she helped me probably more than I helped her.
Our mission every week is to go to CEO and help these women with getting their GED and also to help them develop skills to get and maintain a job. After talking to this lady in the interview and also combining some of the other conversations that I had with the other ladies, I realized how amazing and smart these ladies are (in different ways). I may know more about math or English than these ladies but they have been through so much in their lifetime and have a lot of life skills that I still need to learn. These women have a lot to offer to our community and I hope that future employers will be able to see that.
Coming into this experience, I knew to keep an open mind. I was aware that in no way was I better than these women, but I also knew that I was here to be professional and help them better themselves. In all honesty, the truth of the matter is that it goes both ways. These ladies helped me in more ways than I expected and I truly hope that I was able to give them the help that they needed as well.
A Critical Incident Report
by Otto Sabina – Regis University
When thinking about a critical incident that widened my perspective on my work at CEO one instance stands out. I was working with a gentleman and we were having trouble connecting and getting through the work. It was evident that he was capable of completing the work because he had just failed the sections that we were working on in his entry evaluation. At one point he said something about how our lives were completely different and how we were un-related people.
This is a divide that we have spoken a lot about in our class. He was alluding to this divide because I am a white college student and he is a man of color who has been convicted of a crime. He made a statement about how I would never know what it is like to serve time in jail. This general statement was certainly something that applied to the majority of the people volunteering at CEO. But not me, when I informed him that I had in fact been charged with a crime, served time in jail and am currently on a deferred probation that will hopefully allow me to have a clean record that divide evaporated. His view on our relationship changed and me changed.
He didn’t ask any more questions about my situation, and I did not ask any questions about his. There was a mutual understanding that even though we were completely different people, we had some kind of mutual experience (on some level) that united us. But we immediately started to make significant progress in our work. When our tutoring session came to an end the man told me that he hoped to work with me again and that he really liked our time spent together. This proved to me that the barrier had been navigated and that our time spent together was a success. This incident changed the way I viewed my time at CEO.
I started to believe that if I could find a way to remove that barrier between the resident of CEO and me that we would be able to do much better work. This would improve not only the schoolwork but also the time that we spend together. My interaction with that man changed, and after that instance I have eluded to my personal criminal history to other residents and the same shift has occurred. It is an odd advantage to have, but it has been one of the ways that I have connected with residents at CEO. When we find a way to navigate that barrier and approach the residents on their level as equals, they are much more likely to engage with us, and do the work that is necessary for them to complete.
This event widened my perspective on the work that we do. We are not just there to tutor the residents; we are there to engage with them as people, and to work with them in a dynamic way that encourages growth not only for the resident, but for the tutor as well. My time at CEO has provided me with an avenue of exploring this dynamic of education. That both the teacher and the student learn in an education situation, and that when this dynamic of education is utilized, everyone involved in this process learns more as students, and as people.
A CEO Mission In Action Report
by Tyler Davolt – Regis University
The purpose of CEO, essentially, is to provide educational opportunities to people who were previously involved in the criminal justice system. This sounds all well and good at arm’s length, but as far as I have been able to tell, many of the people attending CEO do not have the same enthusiasm towards the cause. I can’t say I really blame them.
If someone told me I had to spend a bunch of my time doing fractions and grammar lessons, all just to be considered for the dish washing position at the local Applebee’s, I can’t imagine I’d be too thrilled about it either. It seems unfair to me that a criminal record prevents revival in this way, but I also understand the counter arguments. This is the tension in which CEO finds itself in; how do you motivate people to learn something that probably won’t make the slightest impact on them once the GED test is said and done?
This is what CEO does well. Everyone I’ve met at the facility I work at is beyond patient and caring with the people they work with. I often watch my supervisor walk around and check up on the few people studying and working on their resumes on Monday nights, and she always ask people how they are doing, if they need any help, and is always friendly and patient. This seems like such a simple thing to do, but you have to really be compassionate about what you are doing in order to do the kind of work that the people at CEO do every day. It requires genuine care, not only about the people themselves that you are working with, but also with how their lives eventually turn out.
Something I’ve noticed is that the tutors and administrative staff that I’ve worked with never treat these women like criminals, they are just treated like human beings. And I’ve found that I’ve stopped thinking of these women as criminals as well. I think this is really what makes CEO a valuable organization. In a job like this, burnout is par for the course. When you constantly work with people who don’t cooperate, who don’t like being there or see it as a chore, you are bound to burn out, get tired, and lose your enthusiasm. I have never once seen the people at CEO lose this enthusiasm, and as a result, it makes me excited to do whatever I can to help the clients with whatever it is they are working on for that day.
Unfortunately, my constant moving around the facility and working with the few and always different clients at CEO prevents me from drawing out their mission into a sharp, vivid focus, but at the very least, it is clear to me that the people at CEO genuinely care for their clients and want to help them succeed in any way they can. This sort of caring in and of itself is truly a rare thing to find, even among non-profit outreach programs in general, and it makes me excited to help CEO with its mission however I can each time I come in to tutor.
A CEO Critical Incident Report
by Sean Daru – Regis University
“What is your name?”
“What is your last name?”
“You’ll have to buy me dinner first.”
As I said that, the room fell apart in laughter, and the residents started to tease the ICCS worker for confusing me for a resident. They said, “Does he look like us,” and, “He is never going to be in a place like this.” The ICCS worker gave a brief smile, quickly apologized for her mistake, and went on with her work for the day. As we all settled back into the routine of CEO class work, I could not stop thinking about what had just happened.
“Does he look like us?” I couldn’t help to wonder what deeper meaning this question had; I felt certain that he was not talking about my clothes. Was it my skin color? The way I carried myself? The way I acted? Was there some barrier between myself and the residents that prevented them from being able to identify with me, and if so is that barrier deeper than simply the role of tutor-student?
The concerns I had about the previous quotation did not affect me half as much as the statement, “He is never going to be in a place like this.” I do not know who said it, but I turned in the direction of whoever said it, and told him “Thank you.” I regretted my sentiment of gratitude the moment I uttered it. It was, at least for me, a very complicated and problematic moment. On the one hand I had a resident saying that I would never end up in a place like ICCS, and on the other hand I was thanking him for this observation. I can only explain the painfulness of this exchange by unpacking each quote.
(Visit our Regis University Student page to read the entire report)
“He is never going to be in a place like this.” Why? This quote is so similar to the other quote about me not looking like an ICCS resident. What is it that is so obviously separating the residents and me? Is it my skin color? Is it that I am in college? Is it some other type of privilege that is being ascribed to me that I don’t even know about? I wish I could go back to that moment and say, “I am no different than you. We are both people. I too have broken the law. I too have family and friends in the prison system, and while there may be some things, such as skin color, which have helped to keep me out of the prison system it has also been dumb luck.” I didn’t say those words though. Instead, I said, “Thank you.” I expressed gratitude for the explicit and implicit divide that exists between me and the residents. I am ashamed of that moment, and I hope none of them remember it.
But even if I could go back to that moment and tell them that the divide between us is not so great, would it matter? At the end of the day I get to go home to my comfortable and easy life, while these men continue the struggle of piecing together their existence. Furthermore, I do not have to deal with the invisible barriers that a former convict feels between himself and the rest of society. I learned at CEO that the physical separation imposed by the prison system is not nearly as isolating as the existential isolation that many prisoners experience.
A CEO Character Sketch
by Michael Bovee – Regis University
Entering an Unfamiliar Environment
One of the things that I initially struggled with concerning my work at CEO is the level of anonymity it necessitates. As a somewhat closed-off and soft spoken individual, it is difficult enough for me to get to know people on a personal level in a normal environment. So, entering an unfamiliar environment in which I am told to not divulge personal details to those with whom I work inevitably complicates the matter. Moreover, the individuals I do meet typically do not care to share personal details with me. Interaction felt forced and sterile for me at first; it was as though I was just an automaton who would go into ICCS every Monday at 3:30 like clockwork, go through the motions of tutoring, and then leave. This, as explained in my critical incident paper, began to change throughout the semester, though. I ended up feeling more comfortable in my environment and was in a way freed up to empathize with and thus better understand those around me. Perhaps one of the most significant individuals in enabling this process for me was Melissa, who coordinates afternoon volunteer and client interactions at ICCS Lakewood.
Impressions of a CEO Staff Instructor – Melissa
From our first meeting on, Melissa has always been amiable and has assisted me in working with others. Our interactions were limited at first, but over the course of 13-14 weeks I believe it is safe to say that I have gotten to know her somewhat well, at least on the surface-level. One of the primary contributing factors to this is that for the past month or so – however long we have been experiencing nice weather – few clients come in for tutoring during my allotted time slot. This has entailed a lot of standing around and, of course, conversing with CEO staff. After she graduated from college with an English degree, Melissa worked with adult immigrants, many of whom were illiterate, who were attempting to learn English as a second language. This in and of itself illustrates her patience and resolve; I feel as though instructing others in a language entirely foreign to them without you yourself being able to communicate in their native language would be immensely difficult. After struggling with the bureaucratic limitations of resources for a couple years, she left that job and began her work with CEO.
Seemingly, Melissa is passionate about helping others, especially those whom society has neglected or left behind. She is incredibly patient with clients and seemingly gets along with everyone. She has a knack for helping clients while at the same time allowing them to figure things out for themselves. I, at least, am under the impression that she occupies an important role in the community of CEO and that she truly enjoys what she does. That is not to say, however, that what she does is easy nor that there are not plenty of obstacles in her way. Clients who neglect to show up, lack of funding, and changes in GED curriculum are a few of many hardships faced by a CEO employee. Moreover, I cannot even imagine the stress of being a mother and essentially having to ensure the intellectual well-being of not only oneself and one’s family but also of dozens of ex-convicts. It takes a particular kind of person to fill a position such as Melissa’s, and although I do not know her at a personal level, I believe she is very suited for it.
A CEO Character Sketch
by Taylor Clapp – Regis University
John’s Story – Meeting The Challenges
This was a man who I have met very recently. For the sake of his confidentiality I will call him John. John and I met for this first time last Tuesday and I spent the whole hour working on him with Basic English. For the first time at CEO, I got an inside glimpse of the people who go there. Alan left school shortly before he was supposed to go to high school because his dad died. He had to work to support the family, especially his mother. He eventually became a skilled car detailer, a job that he still has to this day. He told me that he was close to getting his GED but for reasons unknown, he was incarcerated. While he was in jail he was beat up for trying to help another person. Because of this, he has double vision that plagues this. He told me that he loves to read, and he has been reading the Bible every single morning. He asked me what my favorite books of the Bible were and where I was going to school and what I was studying, all while we were supposed to be working on English.
While working through these challenges, I saw in John the many things that characterize the people at CEO. He was a blue-collar guy, grungy, salty, but had a real desire and thirst to learn. He also carried with him a lot of baggage, both mental and physical. Because he had double vision, he has trouble concentrating. He spent most of our time together with an “eye patch” that was a note card folded over so he could actually read the questions and the answers. He is frustrated that he has all these meetings to go to, he has all these classes that he needs to go, and he has to work. He sees the enormity of the demands that are set before him, and feels daunted.
Despite all of these challenges, John still preservers, and he is intelligent too. One of the things that we, sometimes I, tend to separate ourselves from the clients at CEO based on the fact of our educational background. I don’t think that they are unintelligent but I sometimes fall into a trap of “I know this because I am in college and you don’t because x, y, and z”. John was able to answer every question without fault. He may not be educated, but he still has his wits about him.