If students eat breakfast at Tucker Dining Hall at William Woods University, they may become aware of a group of young girls walking in that are unfamiliar faces on campus. The young girls are residents at the Rosa Parks Center.
According to George Garner, associate professor of Social Work at William Woods, the Rosa Parks Center is a Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS) residential treatment facility and is considered a group home. The lower-level care treatment facility opened on January 2, 2001 on the WWU campus. The state’s male residential youth program was already located in Fulton, Missouri. At the time, state officials were looking to open a girl’s program in Missouri’s Northeast region; the DYS Regional Administrator, Director of DYS, and the social work advisory board at that time all had a good working relationship with William Woods due to WWU students, who had interned for the boys’ program. They approached the university about the possibility of housing a new facility for girls on the William Woods campus. Ever since, William Woods and the Rosa Parks Center have been partners.
The William Woods University Social Work program has an established relationship with the Rosa Parks Center facility manager, Mr. Lindsey Latham, who has been working at Rosa Parks since April 2016. According to Latham, the partnership is beneficial to both William Woods and Rosa Parks.
“William Woods is a great partner for Rosa Parks, which has created a unique association that no other Department of Youth Services program has,” Latham said. “It creates opportunities and experiences that no one else can go through.”
Having the Rosa Parks program at William Woods creates an endless amount of opportunities. According to Elizabeth Wilson, Social Work professor, some of these opportunities include developing social work skills, mentoring or tutoring kids, introducing them to art projects, teaching them about horses, and more.
“There are a lot of things people can do that would help them enhance their learning and benefit the residents there,” Wilson said. “I think it is important for the students to understand that the young women there are receiving treatment and are very similar to them in some ways but different as well.”
Thanks to the partnership, WWU students can pursue internships. This year, Kris Treijs ’19 is serving as the first intern that Rosa Parks has had in some time. Treijs chose to intern at the Rosa Parks Center because she believed she could influence teen girls more than any population due to her age and life experiences. She has three younger siblings and loves serving an older sister/maternal role because it comes most naturally to her as a young woman.
“These girls have displayed incredible strength and vulnerability in their treatment process,” Treijs said. “It’s always touching to see them open up about things that I know take a lot of bravery to share with peers and mentors. They make me want to open up more about my life experiences to show others that it’s okay to hurt, and it’s even more okay to heal.”
Treijs finds that the Rosa Parks program is a great internship for William Woods students because it allows them to understand what she considers to be miracles that are happening right in their backyard. She believes that the Rosa Parks Center is a true example of treating youth that have made mistakes as what they are, which is adolescents as opposed to delinquents. She also believes that anyone interested in interning there should be excited to be a role model, mentor, and friend to these girls.
“The girls are amazing, and I want everyone to show them the love they deserve,” Treijs said. “They are dedicated to successfully completing their programs. They have goals and aspirations.”
Treijs assists the girls with schoolwork, helps facilitates group therapy sessions, and guides them in everyday tasks. Others at the facility appreciate Treijs’ hard work, including Latham.
“The girls have really warmed to her and she has really warmed up to them through playing games and just being active with them,” Latham said. “She gives a different new perspective and she brings a lot of energy to the group. The group of young ladies see a new person come in here and they all feel they get something new.”
While Rosa Parks is a place for students to intern, it is also an educational experience for students to learn about the program. During Connections class, Garner brought students to visit the Center. The students were able to chat with the girls and learn more about them. Garner’s goal was to become familiar with the program, dispel any myths and to help out any students who were interested.
“I think it is really interesting that we have this group home on our campus that is kind of a mystery that no one knows about,” Garner said. “I wanted them to understand what goes on there, and that they are kids just like them who have had bad situations and faced some difficult challenges.”
While visiting Rosa Parks, many of Garner’s Connections students were impacted by the experience including Aaron Brandt ’22, who is a Physical Therapy student. According to Brandt, William Woods should get more involved with Rosa Parks and to learn about the girls and let them learn more about William Woods students. He believes students should also visit, and whenever the students see them in the cafeteria, they should learn more about their journey at the Rosa Parks Center.
“At first, I thought they were going to be bad kids but learned they all wanted to become successful and forget what happened and to make it better.” Brandt said.
Along with learning about Rosa Parks, Wilson put on a LEAD event about Rosa Parks Center and Fulton Treatment Center. At the LEAD event, students wrote encouraging notes on the sticky notes to the girls at Rosa Parks and the young men at Fulton Treatment Center. For a lot of students, it was the first time they truly realized what Rosa Parks was and were able to learn what those services were.
“The students wrote notes to them that were really powerful,” Wilson said. “We had some students share in their letters that they experienced similar challenges, were first-generation college students and encouraged them to stay in school and finish their GED.”
From partnering with the university, the Rosa Parks Center at William Woods provides the girls with a view about life after the program finishes. According to Latham, DYS has a history of kids going to college, and he is hopeful that plenty of girls will attend. Last summer, they went on a college campus tour when the students were gone. The girls liked it a lot and received information about William Woods that they did not know about. Latham believes the future is bright for lot of girls and that they will go places.
The Rosa Parks Center is beneficial to the program participants, but a great opportunity for William Woods students as well.