Trauma and Leadership Pilot Program

For the next twelve weeks, the Welcome Project will be piloting a new trauma and leadership program for our intermediate/advanced ESOL students and other interested members in the community. The program aims to help immigrant adults in our community develop their personal narratives as a way to heal from emotional trauma as well as empower themselves as leaders. Central to the program is the belief that the skills acquired in overcoming trauma are the same skills needed to be a strong leader. For example, emotional intelligence, first articulated by Daniel Goleman, is one of these overlapping skills. By addressing these skills, the program tries to answer the question of how do immigrants cultivate their own well-being and resiliency and help their communities do the same?

Program Director, Warren Goldstein, and B.U. Social Work grad student, Kaleb Oakleaf, have been developing the program since the fall. The idea for the program came to Warren over the course of last year when he was in the hospital recovering from a traumatic brain injury and was exposed to various resources that seemed to integrate emotional trauma and leadership. In being exposed to these resources, he realized that the existing programs at The Welcome Project had been addressing both emotional trauma and leadership in the immigrant communities all along. The new program works to more intentionally integrate emotional trauma and leadership.

The program has involved a variety of members in the community whose expertise and experiences have informed its curriculum development. The program has an advisory committee made up of professionals in areas like social work and community organizing that meet to provide feedback on the curriculum and development of the program. In addition to the advisory committee, two volunteers will be assisting with the program. Martha Fulla, an immigrant who has a degree in narrative therapy will be assisting in facilitation and a clinical social worker will provide emotional support for those dealing with traumatic experiences throughout the class.

The program held its first session this past Monday in which students discussed what they think the goals and guidelines of the program should be, how the group should behave, and how everyone can feel safe in the group. Students then discussed leadership skills and deconstructed different qualities in leadership. The curriculum of the program will continue to develop depending on the needs of the students in the course. However, the goal is that students learn to give voice and confidently express their own stories. More specifically, the program will integrate Marshall Ganz’s “story of self” in helping students construct their own narratives. Using Ganz’s framework, students will start off focusing on building personal resilience (“story of me”), then move to thinking about how to build community (“story of us”) and address the current political climate and the ways we can be united as a community (“story of now”).

Although the program’s development was already under way before the election, it is now especially relevant given the current political climate in our country. Warren admits that before the election, he “didn’t really realize the importance of this class in having people deal with the emotional aspects of the crisis that has been stoked and then the leadership role that immigrant families are going to need to step up to.” This pilot program will be one of the many steps taken to ensure that individuals in our immigrant communities have the tools and opportunities to serve as leaders.