LORAIN MORNING JOURNAL | JANUARY 29, 2017 | CAROL HARPER
When Lorain City Schools needed a community savvy person to launch wrap around services they turned to Jrayene “Jay” Nimene.
“I could talk all day long about great things Jay Nimene brings to the table,” said Lorain Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Graham. “Incredibly insightful, a great depth of understanding of people, of their needs and how to meet their needs. And what I mean by that is not just connecting them to the appropriate agency, but getting the right people around the table.
“He’s a great thinker in terms of process, putting things together and becoming a strong leader,” Graham said. “He’s somebody I lean on constantly. And we had some tragedies recently, and of course you lean on him in those times, because those are his areas of expertise. Even when we’re not dealing with tragedies, he’s still someone we lean on constantly because of his depth of understanding of people. And you need that, especially in an organization like ours. We have a lot of (different types of) people.”
Nimene started working for the district seven years ago with deep community roots having spent 20 years in counseling and social services, including completing 1,000 suicide assessments a year for two years.
He was promoted Sept. 1 to director of student and family outreach at Lorain Schools.
“Some of the things I’m responsible for are wrap around services for the district,” Nimene said. “What that means is mental health services and social services. I’m responsible for seeing that there are currently mental health agencies assigned to every building to address the needs of each building. Lorain County Mental Health Board helps us with those assignments. We work very closely with Dr. (Kathleen) Kern.
“We’ve always tried to meet the non-academic barriers for our families,” Nimene said. “But now instead of being the liaison and working with it, I’m now overseeing it and making sure that it’s happening.”
The district learned that in order to increase academic achievement and attendance, it must meet non-academic barriers, he said.
“Anywhere from food, transportation, helping them with their utilities, mentoring, tutoring,” Nimene said. “Our main battle, I find, is the battle between home culture and school culture. Meaning, we do all these things we can for the student here at school, but then they go home and face whatever they’re facing. So it’s a constant battle for the student. So we’re trying to make that transition smooth, so home is just as safe and structured as school is.
“Some of those things, you know, a kid does not care about two plus two if he’s hungry,” Nimene said. “It’s meeting those things. It’s nothing too small, nothing too big that we try to help them with. So I often try to be that liaison for those resources. Because I find that they don’t follow through, or they’re just embarrassed, they don’t know how, they’re not confident enough. I just try to keep those links together.”
When Graham started in the district in 2015, he asked about the needs of the families.
“We can assume and think we know,” Nimene said. “That is a scary place to be, to assume you know a person’s story.”
The district created a community survey and asked parents what they need. Mercy Health Clinics emerged from the list of needs, so students and teachers can visit a clinic at one of three elementary buildings, he said.
A new development is optometrist Dr. David Del Principe’s office in the clinics for thorough eye exams, and glasses on site.
And free dental care for youth ages 12 and younger is available 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Feb. 3, at Merit Dental, 5000 Oberlin Ave. in Lorain, in a Give Kids a Smile program through the American Dental Association. Call 440-282-2115 for details or to make an appointment.
“It’s rewarding because I’m able to link the families up with resources,” Nimene said. “Kids stay in school. Families are able to be successful. I like that part.”
But when the worst happens, Nimene takes the call and shows up for others.
“I’ve been doing a lot with the crisis plan, just trying to help us through when we lose staff and we lose students,” Nimene said. “I’ve worked closely with the Lorain County Crisis Team, and with the Lorain County Mental Health Board and they have been awesome. But the leading agency that has been really tremendous for us has been Hospice of Western Reserve, and Cornerstone out of Independence. Those two agencies have really helped us out of some difficult times.”
At Lorain High School, Nimene continues work with about 1,000 students in GEAR UP, a program paid for through a grant to help youth be successful after high school.
Another 400 seventh- through 12th-grade students are targeted with the AVID program, Advance Via Individual Determination.
The best evidence of success is in voluntary testimonials of students who return to tell younger ones about life after high school, he said.
“What happens is, during Christmas break and spring break, students come back and they present,” Nimene said. “And what better way to hear than from their peers to say, ‘Hey, I was in that seat last year, two years ago, and I didn’t believe in it. But this is how it’s helped me in college.’ That’s just the fluffy stuff that I like.”
He praised the GEAR UP staff for their great relationships with students. That makes all the difference, he said.
“Then we focus on them to make sure they are on target to graduate and they have everything they need,” Nimene said.
Prior to his seven years at Lorain Schools, Nimene worked in the community for 20 years: for example, 10 years at Nord Center, as a case manager tech, mental health education and medication compliance, and supervising homes where mental health consumers lived within the county; and four years at Applewood, as a therapist counseling families, he said. And working with youth involved in juvenile court requires a steady heart.
“It’s interesting how they all are related,” Nimene said. “You teach a child; you’re helping them; but then they go back. They go right back to home where a lot of these issues occur. So I think that’s the problem. It’s that constant fight and that constant battle.
“What if instead of paying a child as a reward for, say, cleaning their room, you increase parent involvement in the relationship?” Nimene said. “What happens if I say, ‘Hey, if you clean your room, then you can make cookies with Mom’? And you already know what is going to happen while you’re making cookies. ‘Hey, how was your day? How are things going?’
“Remember back in the day we had dinner all together, Mom and Dad,” Nimene said. “We talked about our day, and that is when you found out stuff. It’s sad when you call home and there’s things going on, and we have good parents and they just don’t know what’s going on. And it’s not because they don’t love their kids and they’re not good parents. It’s because they have to work. And because of where our economy is in our community, a lot of our parents are doing two, three jobs. Sometimes our parents are out of touch. Sometimes kids are raising themselves.”