Mersediez and her mom, Michelle, finally have the relationship they always wanted.
They talk, laugh, roll each other’s hair and share both the trivial and important events in their lives with each other. Sometimes, Mersediez, who leads the band at her high school, plays the flute for her mom. She plays so beautifully, it can make her mom cry.
But mom and daughter weren’t always so close. Just a couple of years ago, being a family could be painful. There were loud arguments, plenty of them. Mersediez’ report cards listed one failing grade after another, an alphabet of only Ds and Fs. There were school complaints about Mersediez’ behavior and suspensions. Once, she cut another student’s hair in a fit of anger and many times, she let her teachers and principal know exactly what she was thinking. Her grandmother no longer visited the family because she could not deal with Mersediez’ behavior and her constant running away from home.
Wanting help for her daughter, Michelle referred her to a children’s hospital and residential treatment. When Mersediez ran away again, mom took her to court. A probation officer suggested the family try Youth Villages, one of the MYPAC providers in Mississippi that offers intensive family counseling.
MYPAC – Mississippi Youth Programs Around the Clock – is a unique program that allows families to choose from a number of private providers that offer family counseling and all the additional help a family may need through a single provider. Youth Villages, which offers intensive in-home services to emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families, became a MYPAC provider when the program started in 2007. To effectively help children, Youth Villages’ philosophy is that the entire family needs help to overcome any obstacles in the way of the child and family’s success. While Youth Villages’ counselors provide therapy, they also help families deal with other pressing issues, such as weathering difficult financial situations, finding stable and affordable housing, handling legal trouble, finding better-paying jobs, accessing resources and much more.
Michelle’s desire to help her daughter any way she could made the job easier for Tiffany Ross, a Youth Villages clinical supervisor working out of the Youth Villages Jackson office. She didn’t have to convince Michelle that the best way to help Mersediez was by involving the entire family.
Tiffany started by visiting the family in their temporary home. Michelle and her husband, Mersediez’ stepfather, had just split up, and the family had moved out of a dilapidated house and a dangerous neighborhood into a friend’s house.
“The family needed their own place, and mom needed a job,” Tiffany said. “She had just lost her job, and their financial situation was dire.”
While working with mom on their living situation, Tiffany began talking with Mersediez, trying to understand where her anger stemmed from and how things could be improved.
“We talked about her goals, goal-setting and breaking goals down into smaller steps,” Tiffany said. “At first, she wasn’t thinking about college, but then everything changed.”
Mersediez slowly started opening up. She had not been getting along with her stepfather and resented his stern parenting style. Now that he had left, Mersediez was ready to rebuild her relationship with her mom.
There were other things that had happened. Once, Mersediez was attacked in her neighborhood. Fearing for the family’s safety, the attack prompted Michelle to move the family to her friend’s house.
Mersediez’ anger, which she used to unleash often, eventually faded away. Mom had always longed to protect her daughter and to communicate with her. Now, they were starting to learn how to communicate with each other.
“Michelle had had a tough youth, and she wanted something different for Mersediez,” Tiffany said. “She didn’t want her daughter to follow in her footsteps and become pregnant and drop out of school. But mom needed to learn to really listen to Mersediez instead of just trying to protect her.”
The family eventually found a new home in a different town and better neighborhood. Mersediez’ report cards started showing entirely different letters – As and Bs – and she began making the president’s list.
Mersediez loved band, and Tiffany and Michelle helped her become even more involved. Mersediez, who plays the flute, moved up to first chair and band leader, and started playing cello as well. Her brother, Michael, 16, also joined the band, playing drums. All summer long, Mersediez participated in band camp. Every day after school, she practices. There are no more suspensions, there’s no more running away and there’s no more talking back to teachers.
Mersediez will lead her school’s band in the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade next year, and she has her future plans mapped out. She wants to go to college and become a veterinarian. She hopes for a band scholarship.
“She is a happy child now, always smiling and goofing off,” her mom said. “She is a totally different child. She made a 180-degree turn. I am so proud of her. She is committed to band, and she is learning, and I love that. I am so proud of my little girl.”