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A visionary, strategist, leader, counselor: these are some terms that describe Sharon Simmons. As the director and head of the Youth Services Program at Phalanx Family Services, she leads her team by example. Their objective is to provide service to others and assist them in evaluating their place in society.
Simmons started her position at Phalanx Family Services in November 2017. Since then, she has worked collectively with her team to provide youth services programs for individuals ages 14-24, including workforce development, mentoring, counseling, reentry programs, youth retreats, cultural activities (plays, sporting events, etc.), justice programs, and more. Ultimately, their goal is to provide both in and out of school youth with wrap-around services designed to meet their individual needs.
She and her team prioritize their clients’ needs. As a result, she ensures the population is being served with the highest quality assistance to enable them to stand on their own.
As the department director, she ensures Phalanx Family Services is an environment where everyone collectively works together in the different programs and communicates effectively for the community’s needs and interests. Furthermore, each department has each other’s back, which strengthens their effort to give participants everything they need to be successful.
Simmons exhibits her leadership skills through her ability to engage with her staff. She builds relationships with them and keeps their interests in mind. Furthermore, at any time, the team members can talk about challenges and develop the best way to engage the community by figuring out ways to overcome obstacles.
She likes to promote an encouraging environment where everyone can engage and be heard. Moreover, this creates a domino effect because when the staff is encouraged, the participants are encouraged as well.
Simmons’s leadership skills promote innovative responses with her team during challenging occasions. For instance, when the COVID-19 pandemic came about, there was an expectation that when One Summer Chicago was switched to working at home, that they would be able to easily fill all of the available positions. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Although this was unfortunate, there was a deeper issue that kept these jobs from being filled. That was people were dealing with mental health challenges at home, so they did not have much to give.
However, this experience resulted in a good outcome with the agency establishing mental health services led by a professional who provides participants with options to visit in person or have virtual sessions. Through these sessions, they are able to sort through the challenges they may be experiencing during the pandemic. With this implementation, the staff started to see more youth coming back to work.
The most rewarding experience in her job is seeing the participants overcome their challenges, genuinely take advantage of the services offered and succeed in their journey. Moreover, she enjoys seeing graduations and advancement ceremonies that allow friends and families to celebrate that person’s success. In this, there is gratitude for what they accomplish.
Written by Ke’Lena Thomas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Interview: Nov. 19, 2021, with Sharon Simmons
Phalanx Family Services: Youth
Images Courtesy of Sharon Simmons – Used With Permission