La’Kisha Hollmon-Griffin Selected for Esther Tomljanovich Recognition Award
La’Kisha Hollmon-Griffin is someone with a calm and steady presence. It’s one of the reasons why she’s so great with teens – you get the feeling that nothing could shake her. For many girls, she’s their rock, someone who shows up for them time and time again. Someone who helps them stay resilient through life’s challenges and inequities.
Awarded for her Work with Girls
Recently, La’Kisha was awarded for her work and leadership in YWCA Minneapolis Girls Resolution and Prevention (RAP) program. She received the 2018 Esther Tomljanovich Recognition Award, an honor given to individuals whose contributions, advocacy and vision have demonstrated a commitment to women and girls involved in the justice system. The program works with girls ages 12 through 18, who are involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. It is a year-long program that offers support and helps girls develop skills for growth and success to prevent repeat offenses and promotes girls’ social, educational and physical well-being.
In her role as Girls RAP Program Coordinator, La’Kisha leads the overall program and provides direct service. La’Kisha’s favorite part of the job is when a girl feels comfortable enough with her to have raw, authentic conversations about life and when a family trusts her enough to support them. She says many times, it doesn’t take long to build those bonds. “I meet girls, who on the first day of programming, come up and say ‘Can I speak to you?’ and disclose personal issues such as neglect and abuse,” says La’Kisha. Often, the girls are waiting for someone to trust and confide in, and La’Kisha is it.
A Path toward Girls and Youth Work
La’Kisha started at YWCA Minneapolis 13 years ago as a group fitness instructor. Since then, she paved an intentional path toward YWCA Girls and Youth programs, where she found her home. Working with girls is what she feels she “was born to do.” “Knowing the impact of people who supported me when I was young,” says La’Kisha, “I discovered I had the opportunity to do the same thing, and could be meaningful in a girl’s life.” In her position as coordinator, she provides a larger role – to advocate for the program and help guide its future.
When Girls See New Possibilities
Some of the girls say La’Kisha and the other RAP staff grow to be like family to them. La’Kisha recalled one significant moment: a time a group of Girls RAP team attended the high school graduation ceremony of a girl who participated in the program. “We were in the lobby, and when she saw us, she burst out in tears,” says La’Kisha. She just kept saying, “I didn’t have anyone here, but you guys came!” One lasting impact of this program is that each girl can say “there were people who cared about me.” La’Kisha also hopes the girls will see new possibilities for themselves, and know what it feels like to have their thoughts and contributions valued in the world. The impact of that can be exponential.
Intentional Team-Focused Leadership
La’Kisha sees her style of leadership as part of the work. She is intentional about the way she interacts with her staff in front of the girls: “I laugh, I play, I joke. I consult my staff and have them teach me in front of the girls.” Often, girls are taught to be in competition and not trust each other. La’Kisha says it’s important to her that they see women supporting and empowering each other. They learn about the power of sisterhood through positive role modeling.
“La’Kisha is dedicated to the positive well-being of the girls and the team she works with,” says Christa Perkins, YWCA Girls and Youth Director. “She makes it her priority to deliver well-planned, interactive and thoughtful programming. She cares deeply for the girls and works tirelessly to ensure Girls RAP is providing the best support and resources.”
Redesigning the Juvenile Justice System Maze
La’Kisha received the Esther Tomljanovich Recognition Award at the 14th Annual Conference on Justice Involved Women and Girls in April. The award committee recognized La’Kisha as someone who “understands that the juvenile justice system is like a maze with too many entrances and lots of dead ends.” They selected La’Kisha for her “crucial work to redesign the maze with fewer entrances and clearer pathways out, so that girls can receive the support they need and contribute their many skills and abilities to their communities.”
“It’s hard for me to accept recognition for something I was meant to do,” says La’Kisha. But, La’Kisha is appreciative of the light this award shines on the Girls RAP program and the whole team’s dedication. “It’s a huge team effort,” she says.
During La’Kisha’s award acceptance, she shared, “When surveying a group of justice-involved girls, they were asked what would have prevented their involvement or re-entry. A large portion of the girls answered, “A trusted, non-judgmental, consistent adult” in their lives. La’Kisha’s message to the group and to those she meets? “If you want to make a difference, get involved in a girl’s life soon, often, NOW!”