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This University of Michigan program goes into Southeast Michigan to help kids thrive

University of Michigan program goes into Southeast Michigan to help kids thrive
University of Michigan program goes into Southeast Michigan to help kids thrive 04:43

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - University of Michigan lecturer Deb Gordon-Gurfinkel founded Telling It 16 years ago. 

The trauma-informed program aims to help local middle schoolers build resilience by providing a judgment-free environment and a platform that allows for creative expression. 

"It's a little unusual," said Gordon-Gurfinkel. "It borrows from many different other thinkers and methods. We kind of bring in this one and that one – whatever works, we're not purists. And there's no censorship and no judgment. And one thing that we do is we invite the chaos of real life – and then we work with it. And the kids thrive." 

She briefs her undergraduate students and Telling It staff ahead of each session. 

They lay out goals, knowing that they have to be ready to shift gears to meet students where they're at. 

"Every step of the way of my own personal growth, I've had some type of advocate or some type of resource," said resident artist Bryce Cobb III. "Sometimes it comes in a person, and usually that person gives me an insight into what I can be. So, like, having that reference point. It's cool to be able to show up and contribute to spaces that I was once in, in a way that if I was there, I'd be able to benefit from." 

Gordon-Gurfinkel is trained in implementing the theater arts in a classroom setting. But years ago, when she worked with homeless youth, she realized its power in helping kids find their voice. 

At Telling It, anything goes. Any language can be used, and nothing is off-limits – almost. 

"I was kind of skeptical, but now it's something that I look forward to every school week," said student Juan Greene. "It's really fun; you can be yourself, you can do whatever you want, be funny. As long as you're not really hurting anyone and being cordial and having a great time, that's all they care about." 

"It's a comfortable place; it's like home – that I like," said student Arianna Destiny Nealy-Brooks. "I look forward to being me. It's very fun." 

The program takes a trauma-informed approach. 

"The way that we are trauma-informed at Telling It is instead of reacting to some behavior or attitude as, 'Oh, what is wrong with you?' It's more about, 'Huh. Where did that come from? What maybe happened to you, and how can we help in that situation?'" said lead social worker Kelly Kundrat. "We establish safety first, we do a lot of rapport building, and then we let the youth help co-create the space of self-expression." 

"I've been doing this now for a long time, so I'm bumping into kids who were kids and are now adults with kids of their own, and I have heard from some of them how there was a moment, and it's usually a small moment that I didn't even know happened, where something was said, we did something, something happened, and it was transformative for them," said Gordon-Gurfinkel. 

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