Reconnecting At-Risk Youth to Education through … Manicures?

By Hannah Wohl

It was her third missed appointment. I was at my wit’s end. As an advocate for young mothers working at the Brooklyn Young Mothers’ Collective, I am good at talking about policies, making presentations, and helping connect young mothers back to school. But, this young woman had me stumped. By the time she and I met, she had been out of school for years and had expressed no desire to go back, so pushing a return to high school was out of the question. I wanted to help her enroll in a GED program; however, it was impossible to move forward without an in-person meeting. Each time that she promised to come in, I prepared a fresh packet of program brochures to share with her, and when she missed her appointment, slightly deflated, I’d store the packet back in my drawer. Last week, I called her again after yet another missed appointment.

“What should I do?” I asked her plaintively. “What will make you come here?”  I pleaded.

I must have sounded defeated, because my supervisor, Benita Miller, yelled from her office, “Take her to get her nails done!” Out of desperation, I offered, and, miraculously, she made her way to our office and together we battled the snow to the nearest nail salon.

Over our freshly lacquered nails we gossiped about boys and laughed about the rhinestones she convinced me to have pasted onto my nails. When we were done, we walked back to my office and signed her up to take the GED.

I know what you are thinking – a cheap bribe. But it was more than that. I was extending my hand (quite literally) into her world, engaging in something that she enjoyed in an environment in which she was comfortable. Mind you, I have never had my nails done. As I type this, I smile over my gaudy nail polish, not only because this young women is now signed up to take the GED, but also because I learned that I must connect with at-risk youth in a way that is relevant to them – even if I have to step outside of my own comfort zone.


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Filed under Brooklyn Young Mothers' Collective, New York City, Pregnant and Parenting Students, Schools

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