From her post near the entrance of Brashear High School, security guard Nikkia Ingram greets students every morning.
She might say hello hundreds of times, but she knows each interaction matters. Often that hello turns into a conversation about how the students are feeling that day or what’s on their minds and how their grades are looking.
For the last eight years, Ingram has used her position as a school security guard to let students know she’s looking out for them beyond their personal safety. One thing she has noticed is when they don’t attend classes — and she holds them accountable. Three years ago, her efforts to curb absences culminated in the creation of her own nonprofit called Cultivating Resilient Youth.
“Kids need adults in their corners,” says Ingram of the West End, a mother of two. “There are so many kids without support or a strong foundation. I don’t know how they can excel without it.”
Ingram was motivated to start her nonprofit at the encouragement of Brashear administrators, who saw the positive impact she was having on students and wondered how to leverage that to help even more kids.
Cultivating Resilient Youth formed to focus on mentoring, professional development and community service with a strong emphasis on education. The organization helps students navigate the college application process, including college visits, and offers workshops on conflict resolution, emotional development and health and wellness.
One shining example? The organization’s group for female students called F.I.Y.A. –for Fierce.Inspiring.Young. Adults — which has 30 participants who meet twice weekly at the school. The group hosts speakers, takes field trips and attends sporting events. Each time they meet, every girl is asked to say one positive thing about herself and one positive thing about another member of the group.
“They encourage one another and are there for one another,” Ingram says. “It’s been awesome to watch.”
The students are from all walks of life, Ingram says, which has resulted in a few friendships that might not have otherwise formed. And school attendance has improved among the group, as members tend to hold one another accountable.
She’s also watched them become more invested in school, signing up for extracurricular activities and attending school events. Ingram always is eager to help them get involved in anything that interests them and to help them find the resources they need to excel.
Earlier this month, Ingram was honored for her work with a United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania Be There Award which recognizes outstanding adults in Allegheny County who encourage school attendance.
“There has been a great deal of research in the last five years linking regular school attendance with graduation,” says Shauna McMillan, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s manager of programs for children and youth. “Kids who miss 10 percent or more have an incredibly more difficult time making it to graduation.”
McMillan says the work Ingram is doing “is incredible.”
“The award really helps recognize folks who go above and beyond, and she fits those criteria perfectly.”