JCCA’s Youth Development Team works with teenagers in our Foster Home Services Program to help them develop the skills they need for successful adulthood. JCCA spoke with Youth and Career Development Coordinator, Theodor Gervais, about his career journey and why he fell in love with the work. This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
JCCA: Can you tell me a little about your role?
My title is Youth and Career Development Coordinator. There is one of me in Brooklyn and then another woman in The Bronx. Our main focus is to prepare the youth for adulthood. That could be for careers, vocational training, or just to help them figure out their path. We also do independent living workshops, where we teach all kinds of living skills. For instance, in the past, we’ve done workshops on budgeting and financial literacy, resume building, mock interviews, how to responsibly manage your money once you have a job.
JCCA: How long have you been with JCCA? What do you like most about this position?
I started four years ago as a socio-therapist, then I became a Case Manager. I joined the L.E.A.P department in November 2019. I like getting to be around young adults. I can communicate with them better. Even though they love to call me old, I’m not that far off in age from them. I listen to the same music as them! I don’t have to sugar coat things or baby them, and I think they appreciate it.
JCCA: Are your workshops primarily career development, or do you hold other kinds of workshops?
We also do open forums. They are especially important during this time. We discuss everything that is going on culturally, politically, and involving social injustice. We discuss race and police brutality, and during those workshops, I’ve been informing the kids about their rights. We do have some fun stuff too! It’s not always so serious. We get to take youth out on trips, in normal times. My first day in this position we took the kids to Six Flags. This was my first day! It couldn’t get any better than that; drive them to Six Flags and let them go have fun! One of the kids convinced me — dragged me — to get on Kingda Ka. I was a little bit nervous. I said I’d go on any other ride, but she got me to go on that one. It was actually pretty fun.
JCCA: What workshops have the youth seemed to like most?
A lot of them have an interest in Finding Your Voice, a sanctuary for youth to discuss and voice their opinions. A lot of kids get frustrated in their foster home, and it allows them to work through constructive ways of advocating for themselves. But it’s now turned into events like Finding Your Voice: Black Lives Matter, Finding Your Voice: LGBTQIA+. We have open and safe discussions. I’m not teaching them. I’m just giving them a place to speak, learn from each other, maybe let off a little bit of steam.
JCCA: Why is this work important to you? What brought you to JCCA all those years back?
I wanted to go to law school, but I wasn’t loving the study of law. This job seemed interesting. Now, I’ve fallen in love with social work. That’s why I’m getting my MSW at Hunter. I’ll be graduating next year.
Now I see the work in a different light. I’m understanding foster care a little more. When I sit down with my peers it energizes me because I am in a group that wants to make a difference and positively impact other people’s lives. We are working side by side for equality. It makes me appreciate JCCA because my colleagues and I are all working together to assist those who didn’t get a fair start in life.
JCCA: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
If you give the youth a chance, they can amaze you.
 Kingda Ka is the world’s tallest rollercoaster