Today we’d like to introduce you to Benita Page.
Hi Benita, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in Chicago, raised by a single mom who set the stage for me to grow into a strong black woman and to have a purpose in my life. I’ve always been someone who liked a challenge, especially if it was going to benefit others and lead to positive change in the world. I excelled in school and went on to graduate college with both a bachelor’s and master degree in education. I married and was raising three children by 25 when the family decided to move west. Since college, I always found myself in jobs that involved implementing new and innovative programming for high-risk populations. All my life I have served in roles that redefine how we support and motivate those most in need. In my 20’s I launched a community recreation center and went on to serve as an employment coach both for those with mental health issues. In my 30’s I relocated to California, where I worked as a counselor and operations manager for those in recovery from substance abuse which evolved into assisting men in recovery coming out of prison.
At 36, I found myself selected to be the program director to replicate an innovative community case management intervention for youth on probation. For the next fourteen years, this job involved giving recent college grads their first hands-on job moving high-risk youth out of the juvenile justice system. I set a tone of training all staff to demonstrated empathy, compassion, opportunity, and accountability in their work with youth. In my tenure with this program, I witnessed the launching of careers for over 1,500 young adults who went on to become teachers, probation officers, social workers, and leaders in their fields. At 50, I collected all my knowledge, experience, and passion for transitioning to be the Program Director at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. Through all my professional experiences, too often, the at-risk individuals in my programming began as children impacted by adversities, trauma, and other life challenges. At TKF, I found an organization deeply rooted in healing and prevention.
For the last twelve years, it has been my passion and commitment to evolve and manage TKF’s programming in having a restorative approach that builds youth’s skills to be peacemakers and better manage the chaos that too often impacts their well-being. I truly believe our young people grow in amazing ways when they feel they matter, are treated like they belong, and are encouraged and supported in doing their best. TKF is currently transitioning many aspects of the organization for national replication. Today as I start my 60’s, I find myself wisely developing and teaching educational programming that has the potential to positively impact thousands of youth, their families and communities in San Diego and beyond. If we want to be real heroes and create change in the world, we have to teach and support humanity for all.
We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I grew up as one of the at-risk children I want to bring healing and restorative messages to today. I too, became a single mom teaching my children to make the world better for the next generation. All my life, I have been smart, capable, creative, and a dedicated hard worker with a passion. So often in my journey, I still found I had to prove my worth as both a woman and as a Black American. Over the years, I have used my voice and talents to promote inclusion, change and hope for self and others. This has not always been an easy thing to do, and at times it is an emotional burden that can weigh me down. I chose to be a math major in college only to be told by an advisor he didn’t think I belonged there. Early in my career, I couldn’t get a job as a teacher in Arizona after submitting over 30 applications. Even with all my experience, I was asked to take the job at a substandard wage for a manager. I’ve put all my emotions and personal story into facilitated domestic violence circles for men. While grocery shopping locally, I was recently shocked to be called the n-word by a young girl because she thought it was an okay thing to do. No, the road has not been smooth, but each bump builds my resiliency and certifies my commitment to teach peace and healing.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
What I love most about my work is I get to create and teach life lessons to youth. I’ve been an administrator or manager in the human services field for more than 35 years. In my program director role with the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF), I get to focus on program development, service implementation, training and assessing impacts. I also love to write. I get to take the tragic founding TKF story and turn it into social-emotional programming that addresses and supports young people during vulnerable times.
I’m very proud of the restorative curriculum that I created as a means for teaching restorative principles to youth. The reality of life is that it is bumpy, and for some, it is rough and feels impassable. When children and youth are exposed to adversities, trauma, stressors, violence or harm, it can shape how they think, feel, remember, and act. The curriculum is designed to give children the tools to process life’s challenges, manage emotions, make amends and find healing. They learn when we don’t process and heal, we stay stuck in the drama and emotions of what happened. That can lead to negative behaviors and actions that can impact one for a lifetime. We bring voice to real-life situations and hope to transformation. In assessing the impacts of the curriculum, I’ve witnessed youth growth through the process of facilitating the ten deeper learning lessons. Now I get to teach educators why and how to teach these materials. My brain and heart work overtime in bringing my passion to being caring human beings to life through my work at TKF.
So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
The first thing that came to my mind in answering this question was balance. My work is about teaching balance to others and when I can, I try to find balance in my personal life. For years, I lived in the Normal Height community of San Diego, which is a great walking and socializing neighborhood. I definitely took advantage of the area as a way to stay in balance. I’m also a camper and someone who loves the outdoors. I’ve always surrounded my home on the outside with plants, gardens, fountains, chimes, and comfortable sitting spaces. I even cook outside every chance I get. Because so much of my time, energy and thinking space is doing development, I need the balance of tranquility and rejuvenation that I get from experiencing the outdoors and experiencing nature.
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