Sailing to Success
Two couples from New York City quit their jobs in fashion, corporate, nursing and teaching to find success in a group home setting in Washington, DC. Charrisse and Mark Ifill and his brother Mark Ifill and his wife Khardieita related their collective experience while sailing on the York River near Williamsburg with their small children.
“We’d like to change the way America cares for children, to show at-risk teenagers that you can live under one roof in a family structure with a married couple who will take care of you.” The couples live in single-family homes with their charges, almost all of whom were raised by single mothers. Even the uncles avoid getting involved.
One couple cares for six teenage boys in a family setting and the other couple cares for six teenage girls. The teens have chores to do, just like in any family. “They get points for positive behavior and lose points for negative behavior. The points lead to privileges, such as a weekend pass to go home or to go shopping.”
The two homes are under the operation of the famous Boys Town of Omaha, Nebraska. “We work from a research-based, evidence-based model by Boys Town that shows it takes a year to change their behavior to develop coping skills, cooperation with others, even how to handle grief. Unfortunately, the system limits us to six to nine months, or sometimes just 90 days. The children come from the court system and child protective services. We don’t get to pick and choose, which would be nice.” One teen had been charged with attempted murder by the time he arrived.
“They’re learning new behaviors, how to follow directions for example. You’d be surprised that some of them can’t do that, because they never had to. We’re teaching them that you can be a family in the right way, with give and take, and not just be a baby momma. And you can still be cool, enjoy life the right way. We’re showing them by example how it can be done.”
Omaha is the model, but on a larger scale. “They have their own fire department, police department, public library and so on. They even have their own exit on the Interstate.”
Compared to New York, the Ifills found that the DC school system lacks for teachers, commitment, resources and discipline. “So we work with that.”
When asked for their success rate in the past year, Mark and Lester added up the numbers. “We’ve graduated 12 so far into the world, with some success. They report back to us on their own about their progress. We’re very encouraged.”
They sailed along the river magnificently as the sun began to set. Soon we spotted a submarine docked at a base, but it seemed irrelevant under the circumstances.