At Safe Passages, we believe that it is critical to creating positive life pathways for our youth and young adults. Through the “Where Are They Now?” series, we will highlight the trajectory of some of our young people who have participated in one of our Career Pathway training programs, including AmeriCorps, VISTA, Social Work Internship, Life and Career Road Map, and Get Active Urban Arts. We are proud of our alumni and excited to share their stories!
Michael Maldonado’s journey with Safe Passages began in 2011 as a young man out of college, unsure of his career path but looking to give back to the community. His path has been varied and interesting from the start.
Today, Michael is a Senior Policy Associate at Safe Passages and wears many hats. He explains his position in broad terms, saying, “I study systems, work within systems, and build partnerships with systems to change and improve them for the communities that we serve.” He graduated from UC Berkeley at the height of the recession and was unsure how to market his Sociology degree in a precarious economy. A friend suggested that he stay in the East Bay and serve for a year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer to boost his resume while giving back to the community – bringing him to Oakland and Safe Passages in August 2011.
As an AmeriCorps Volunteer from 2011-2012, Michael served as the liaison between the AmeriCorps members on-site at the Havenscourt Campus in East Oakland and the Safe Passages’ central office. Michael describes his year with AmeriCorps as “an eye-opening experience that helped me navigate what I wanted my career in the education field to look like, and realize that there is an important overlap between the education and mental health fields.” His time with AmeriCorps inspired him to pursue a Masters of Social Welfare (MSW), and he was accepted into UC Berkeley. He was required to complete an internship each year of the two-year program, so he returned to Safe Passages to gain the necessary hands-on, graduate-level experience. He assisted with the nonprofit’s program management, planning, and market research, and helped develop a business plan for a new program to train and inform educators about trauma-informed care.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Michael is heavily involved with Safe Passages’ Career Development Pathway for youth and young adults. He is currently developing a curriculum for Alameda County’s Behavioral Health Care Services, with the aim being to “increase knowledge of traditional and non-traditional mental health careers for young people of color, and help them identify and navigate their education.” He helps prepare students for their eventual matriculation into a four-year institution and connects them to resources that will help them be more competitive in the world of higher education and beyond, such as career exploration and college success courses. For him, the goal of these classes is for students to “see the big picture and understand the importance of higher education, especially for underrepresented students of color.”
Michael’s work with youth extends to coaching 15 middle and high school-aged students at a Martial Arts Training Camp in East Oakland, which is now in its third year. Students get to participate for free in the summer if they maintain good grades during the school year. The camp is loosely modeled after Safe Passages’ Get Active Urban Arts program, in that it provides case management services and offers participants a more creative and tangible way to cope with stress and trauma.
Michael shares that “community is at the core of what we do at Safe Passages, and the work I do informs who I am as a father. I want to be an example to my three young daughters, who will all grow up to be women of color. I want them to have a community mindset, and grow up knowing that community is important. They can grow up to be whatever they want, but I want them to value community, and I’m proud to be part of an organization that upholds that.”