Aaron Thomas is the definition of a self made man.
As a younger man growing up in extremely difficult circumstances, he saw the wrong side of the juvenile justice system but he never let that define him or his future.
“When I was 14, I was arrested for the first time. I knew that there was a very high likelihood that jail was in my near future — or death — if something didn’t change; there were so many blind spots,” said Thomas. “In 2008, I saw a job description for a ‘Youth Support Partner;’ they were looking for individuals who were in the system as a juvenile and I had five years of hands-on personal experience. At the time, I didn’t really know anything about working in the system or working with families but I just used the old saying ‘treat others like you want to be treated’ and found training that taught me how to put that into action.”
Today, Thomas is Manager of Professional Development and Coaching for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services’ Youth Support Partner Unit.
And while Thomas is self made, he’s also Temple Made. Since joining Allegheny County’s Youth Support Partner team, he has completed Temple University’s Credential for Strengths-based Family Workers (SFW) program, offered nationally through Temple University Harrisburg, and the Strengths-based Leadership Certificate Program, offered at the Harrisburg Campus.
“The Youth Support Partner Unit was just a pilot program at the time I started there; I always wanted to work with kids and felt I had something to offer juveniles who were involved in the system just as I had been. I was only four months on the job when we found Temple’s training program and it really changed everything,” Thomas said. “What I quickly discovered, and what made the programs special to me, was that it didn’t matter what your experience level or background was starting out. There were gradual steps that helped me become a better worker, a better person, for the families that I was working with — they taught you how to work with families based on that family’s strengths, which is the best approach for achieving successful outcomes.”
The national Credential for Strengths-based Family Workers program, coordinated by Temple University Harrisburg, is a professional training and credentialing program for individuals who work with families — family service workers, case managers, Head Start staff, Children and Youth staff and providers, probation offers, housing counselors, religious-based organizations, Office of Aging staff, adoptive services, anyone who provides services for families, according to Myka Piatt, Program Manager for the Credential for Strengths-based Family Workers and the Strengths-based Leadership Certificate programs.
The Strengths-based Leadership Certificate “provides supervisors, managers, directors and emerging leaders with an opportunity to learn and practice skills leading to a more empowered workplace,” Piatt said.
Leaders have the option to attend any of the five workshops offered or attend all five in any order to complete the certificate program. Sessions are held at Temple University Harrisburg in addition to being offered by partner providers in Pittsburgh and Altoona. For the certificate, participants will additionally complete a workplace project demonstrating the application of strengths-based leadership and attend a final presentation to present an overview of their project goals and outcomes, she said.
The next workshop in the Strengths-based Leadership Certificate program — Strengths-based Leaders Impacting Change — will be offered on Thursday, January 28 and again on Thursday, July 28 at the Harrisburg Campus. The workshop will focus on collaborations and “Organizational culture” in addition to providing leaders an opportunity to talk about their vision for their team and what strategies they can take to implement that vision.
“What we focus on in the certificate program could really apply to anyone that is supervising people or wants to manage people. It isn’t specific to human services; its leaders at all levels in every field that want to build on their leadership and management skills,” she said. “With the strengths-based approach, leaders are taught to focus on strengths. Instead of ‘here is what’s wrong,’ the approach is ‘here are your strengths and how they can be used to overcome challenges.’”
Addressing problems or concerns from a positive approach helps staff members “become more empowered and engaged in the process,” Piatt said.
“They are able to draw on their experiences and strengths to help solve a problem. Our hope is that the workshops change how managers and supervisors view their role as a leader,” she said. “We want them to improve their understanding of how their values, their culture, their personal perspectives impact the way that they interact with people. Ultimately we want our students to leave with concrete skills that will help them build positive relationships while strengthening their communication skills and their interactions with their employees or organization members.”
Thomas said entering the leadership certificate after completing the credentialing program was an easy choice.
“At the time, I had no prior supervisory experience and I needed the tools I knew the certificate would provide me with in order to effectively work with my colleagues. It provides a terrific chance for feedback and reflection and the teachers are all individuals who have done the work, who have on the ground leadership experience,” he said. “Most of our staff in the Youth Support Partner unit has been through the system in some way, which I think provides us a unique, empathetic perspective. The training offered through Temple evens the field and gives our staff the experience and self confidence they need to effectively serve families and, bottom line, that’s our number one priority.”
When asked to put together a list of training programs that are essential for the role of a youth support partner, “the Strengths-based Family Workers and the Strengths-based Leadership Certificate programs were number one on the list,” Thomas said. More than 50 people from the Youth Support Partner unit alone have gone through one or both of the programs since Thomas started in 2008, he said.
“They are now written into the job description,” he said. “That is how much we value the program and hope that other organizations and programs in the county make these programs part of mandatory staff training as well.”
In addition to the January 28 workshop, additional workshops at Harrisburg will be held as follows: Strengths-based Leadership, Thursday, March 24; Personal Skills for Strengths-based Leaders, Wednesday, April 27; Culture and the Strengths-based Leader, Thursday, May 19; and Evaluation and the Strengths-based Leader, Wednesday, June 22.
For more information about the Strengths-based Leadership Certificate or the Credential for Strengths-based Family Workers programs, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-232-6400. Visit http://harrisburg.temple.edu/programs/credential-strengths-based-family-workers for additional information.