Supporting Austin’s African American families

Mar 06 2014

By Qunisha Simmons

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Central Texas African American Family Support Conference. Attendance was diverse for this event with representation from many different members of our community. The conference shared valuable resources and featured powerful and inspirational living testimonials by resilient members of our society who had lives wrapped in traumatic experiences. The service provider’s exhibits were intriguing and really were focused on dealing with self-care, mental health, healthcare and other issues families face while striving to be self-sufficient. There were lots of handouts, freebies and representatives from various agencies providing descriptions of their agencies, what they offered and how we could help the members of our community.

One of my favorite aspects was the breakout sessions. I was able to attend a breakout on youth-developed service learning and how providing those opportunities can impact at-risk youth and help them become leaders in their communities. We were paired up with other participants and designed mock service learning opportunities around human trafficking issues. It was fascinating to learn what others knew from their areas of the family and community service organizations, share our knowledge and really get to know about the other participants and what they wanted to take away from this conference.

The inspiration and motivation we left with after hearing several inspirational speakers was unspeakable. I left feeling like there was so much more for me to learn and do to help those who have had traumatic experiences. Many of the CASA staff and volunteers have watched the film Healing Neen about transcending drug addiction, multiple incarcerations and homelessness. Ms. Tonier “Neen” Caine was astounding as the keynote speaker at this conference. She really put into perspective what our job is when working with families dealing with trauma and mental health. She discussed the importance of finding out what the individual’s story is and creating an individualized treatment approach appropriate for that person. Tonier touched on the importance of being trauma-informed and focusing on providing more trauma-informed services to those we help. She discussed how we needed to change our lenses and start seeing “the ability to change” in our clients.

Former foster youth Courtney Jones also shared her experiences as a keynote speaker (she also spoke at CASA’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner this past year). She touched on how important it is to give youth a voice and to create trauma-informed environments in order for our youth to develop resiliency.

It was definitely a unique opportunity to be able to participate in a conference that brought people of common interest in our area together to really tackle and address the support services needed when working with African American families. And ultimately, all of this information is useful in working with any family. After this conference, I am energized and ready to learn more to better serve the children and families we work with here at CASA.