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Finding My Way with the YWCA Girls RAP Program

By Nessa Harms, YWCA Girls RAP Program Participant
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Janessa (Nessa) Victoria Harms is 17 years old and in 12th grade at North Minneapolis High School. She has two deaf parents and three siblings. She had started shoplifting when she was 12 years old to provide for her siblings when money was tight. After being caught and arrested, Nessa learned that by successfully completing the YWCA Girls RAP program, her shoplifting offense wouldn’t be on her record. RAP stands for Resolution and Prevention, and is a program for girls with minor offenses like Nessa’s. She began coming to the YWCA Girls RAP program in 2014 and loves being in a safe place where she can express herself. She shares her story of growth and support in the YWCA Girls RAP Program here.

My name is Nessa Harms. I’m 17 years old and a senior at North Minneapolis High School. I live in Minneapolis with my mom, dad, my sister Star who is 11, and my brother Kevin who is 10 years old. I also have an older brother, TJ, who is 21, an auto mechanic, and a dad to my baby nephew, Liam.

My parents are both deaf and all four of us kids are hearing.

I have a lot of respect for my parents knowing how hard it is for them to be deaf while living in a hearing world. They do their best to provide for us even though having full-time jobs is difficult and money is always tight. My mom would break her back……then neck……then foot to make sure we’re happy. Like finding a house where I could have my own bedroom and bathroom. She’s open minded and loves me unconditionally. She trusts I will find my path.

I’m taking a PSEO class at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. I’ve taken a sociology class, a Spanish class, and I am now taking an American Sign Language class. Even though sign language is the language we use at home, I’m taking the class to learn more about the deaf culture. I also work two part-time jobs – teaching arts and crafts afterschool and working at the Minneapolis farmers market. I have saved up enough money to buy my first car!

When I was 14 years old, I was arrested for shoplifting. I had been shoplifting since I was 12. It started when my younger brother and sister needed stuff. A lot of times they would need socks or clothes, or we wouldn’t have any food for dinner. We just don’t have very much money in my family. So I started going to gas stations and taking little things like sandwiches. I would just slide a few things in my bag and walk out unnoticed.

At that time I lived in Maple Grove. I thought things made you a somebody because everybody seemed to have things that we didn’t. We were treated differently. Like, my sister would get teased because she wore high waters.

I was arrested at the Walmart in Maple Grove in the summer of 2014. We had puppies in our house that had torn up our mattresses and bed sheets. So I put some new bedsheets in my bag. When I left the store I got caught. After I was caught, I had to do the walk of shame back into the store. I was extremely embarrassed. I wasn’t a bad kid, and I didn’t want anyone getting the impression that I was. So, I went back into the store and they called the police, and I was arrested.

Then I learned that if I successfully completed the YWCA Girls RAP program, my shoplifting offense wouldn’t be on my record. RAP stands for Resolution and Prevention and the program is for girls with minor offenses like mine.

In addition to the RAP program, I had to complete six months of counseling as part of my case plan. Girls RAP meets at the Downtown YWCA. The first time I went through the program I was bitter. Since I was there because I was arrested, it felt like a punishment. That summer got busy, so I ended up missing many required sessions. This meant I had to take the program again. I liked it better the second time. I felt like I was in a safe place and could express who I was.

Growing up with deaf parents who didn’t have much money, and a teenage brother who was in and out of the house, I had to take up a lot of responsibility. At RAP, I could just be a kid and talk until I figured things out. It felt like a huge weight lifted off me. Miss Soua, Miss Brittany and Miss La’Kisha were all adults I could trust and depend on. Because I had people I could openly talk to, I began to be more aware of myself. I also got to have great conversations on social issues like racism and generational poverty. These opened my mind up and challenged my way of thinking.

Because of Girls RAP, I wrote and presented a spoken word piece about how us as individuals are our own biggest enemies to an audience of college students in Madison, Wisconsin. Now I’m in Youth Mash Up – a YWCA youth leadership group. We do community projects. Like last winter we did a coat drive collecting coats, hats, mittens and gloves that were distributed to schools for kids and families who needed them.

When I think back to who I used to be in Maple Grove, it makes me realize how much I have grown. I am more open and accepting today. I feel wiser, more self-aware and more self-reflective. I know I’m not less than anyone, and I can thank Girls RAP for being a great support system while I was finding my way.

Education is important to me. I’ve been on the A honor roll throughout high school and I know education is my pathway to success. I strongly believe that people can take away a lot from you, but they can’t take away your education. What a lot of people don’t know is that I do all of what I do to avoid the struggles I’ve experienced with money while growing up.I’ve taken the ACT twice, and I plan to take it two more times. I plan to go to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia to possibly study psychology or sociology.

Please wish me luck on getting there.