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Coworker Corner: Brittany Terrell
Sometimes, the support of coworkers means everything. That was what Brittany Terrell discovered when she decided to apply for her current position, director of education resources.
When the job was posted, she was working in the Education and Career Resources at the Walsh Campus as a supervisor of the department. Though she was unsure about taking the step to apply, her coworkers encouraged her to give it a shot.
“I was really afraid,” she said. “I was afraid to take that leap and to take that step, but I got a lot of push from my peers at Mercy Home, and they were like, you are perfect for the job, you will do great. And so, with that being said, I just went ahead and applied for the position.”
Of course, Brittany’s history with Mercy Home goes back much further than when she applied for her current position. Brittany began her career at the Home when she became a youth care worker in Walgreen Home in April of 2011.
As a recent graduate of Northern Illinois University with a degree in criminology, Brittany knew that she wanted to work with young people but wasn’t sure exactly how. After hearing about Mercy Home and doing some research, she knew she had found the perfect fit.
For two years, Brittany was a youth care worker in Walgreen Home, working with our high school-aged girls. It was a position she really enjoyed.
“I think [being a youth care worker is] one of the jobs where it’s underrated as far as what you get is really the full experience of Mercy Home, in my opinion,” she said. “I love being able to do activities with the youth [and] relate to them. We came up with so many activities and things to do around cultural awareness and body positive body image.
“And I feel like with being a youth care worker, there was a lot of autonomy with how we wanted to introduce treatment to the girls … which I really enjoyed because it allowed for a lot of creativity across the board.”
I think being a youth care worker is one of the jobs where it’s underrated as far as what you get is really the full experience of Mercy Home.
After two years with Walgreen Home, Brittany decided to get her master’s degree in social work. In order to accommodate both her job and school schedule, she switched positions to become an overnight youth care worker in Bernardin Home, our oldest girls’ home.
In 2016, Brittany had completed her degree a year ago and was ready for a change. She decided to transition into a role in the Education and Career Resources department, then known as The Academy, as an education resources coordinator, a job that had been appealing to her for a long time.
“The Academy was always appealing to me even as a youth care worker because I felt like it was the perfect medium between not actually being in a school setting, but also still being very influential over the education of the youth,” she explained. “And I never really had an interest in being inside of an actual school, but I love education. It was a very strong family value within my family system, so I knew it was something eventually that I wanted to do.”
As the education resources coordinator, Brittany focused on doing advocacy work for the young women in her care. She remembers that, in her first week, she was able to change a young woman’s five-day suspension to a one-day in-school suspension. It was then that she, along with the rest of the department, realized that she had found her niche.
In addition to advocacy, Brittany also helped our young women find their strengths in the educational field.
“I think people focus so much on negatives or what are the weaknesses [so I wanted to focus on] helping them find their strengths so that they can build that confidence to eradicate what the weaknesses are,” she said. “So I spent a lot of time just reforming and rebuilding their ideas about school, reforming their ideas about education and even post-secondary education—what that could look like based off your interests and really wanting to expose kids to things that they might now have seen, whether it be communities or just life in general and showing them there are different paths, different ways to go.”
In addition to focusing on exposure, Brittany also helped our girls build life skills and learn to be independent and advocate for themselves in school. She gave them lessons on important skills like executive functions, professional writing, how to write professional emails to teachers, and how to advocate for yourself when you have a missing assignment or need accommodation because of an individualized education program (IEP).
“I really taught them how to do my job,” she explained. “One, they’re not going to be at Mercy Home forever. And two, I really wanted to teach how to do it on their own, so when they leave, they can carry those skills with them. And it worked—a lot of the girls that I worked with in the past, they do still email me … and I’m always so, so happy when they email because it’s so professional. …. So it’s very cool and inspirational.”
Brittany spent two years as an education resources coordinator before being promoted to the supervisor of education resources at the Walsh Campus. It was then she decided to take the plunge and apply for her current position.
Taking the new position did mean, however, leaving the Walsh Campus and moving to the West Loop Campus, something she was initially hesitant about.
“I think the most difficult part about it was that I had eight years of friendships I built and just the routine and the family at the girls campus and really feeling like I would miss out on that,” she said.
“And so that was my biggest fear, [that] things won’t be the same, but I was able to build some similar friendships and professional relationships that remind me a lot of what I had when I was at the girls campus.”
Brittany has also kept busy by diving into her current role, which entails running and coordinating the education department for our younger boys at Mercy Home. She supervises the education resource coordinators, works on budgets, tutoring, after-school programming, and coordinating the drivers that transport our kids to and from school.
“It’s a lot of moving pieces within this department,” she explained. “[It’s] also brainstorming and problem-solving with my team when issues do arise, whether it be a school district people are having issues with or certain things with IEP, or special education documents that are not being upheld.
“Really the gist of the department, in my opinion, is to make sure that [the young people at Mercy Home] get the education that they deserve and that they need and that they are entitled to.”
Brittany added that she makes sure her team is aware of things like policy in Illinois, special education needs, and cultural needs of the kids at Mercy Home.
“We spend a lot of time professionally developing around special education needs, policy in Illinois, the Chicago school system, how to navigate that and equity in Illinois … so we spend a lot of time really doing research and then implementing what we find when we are working with youth that are on our caseload,” she said.
Really the gist of the department, in my opinion, is to make sure that the young people at Mercy Home get the education that they deserve and that they need and that they are entitled to.
After nearly 10 years at Mercy Home, Brittany is often asked why she likes about Mercy Home that has made her want to stay for so long. Her answer is simple: Mercy Home is progressive.
“I love that Mercy Home is not stagnant,” she said. “I love that Mercy Home looks at the needs of the youth, the needs of their communities, and then tries to form either committees or task forces or different policies and different ways of looking at our therapeutic model to make sure that they align with the youth in our care. I’m the type of person that is very innovative and creative, and I couldn’t see myself working for an agency that did not reflect those same things. I feel like I can be myself at Mercy Home.”
Brittany also named two coworkers who she feels have been influential role models for her in her career: Tilisha Harrison and Angie Hicks.
“They did a lot of developing me professionally,” she said. “They also allowed that creativity and autonomy that I was talking about as a youth care worker, they allowed that within their team, which really empowered us a lot. And so I think they set the tone for my career at Mercy Home and feeling like it was okay for me to have a voice and it’s okay for me to be a part of the bigger conversations and the importance of reaching down to the staff who are on the front line for their points and suggestions and opinions. I think I took a lot of those leadership skills that they have and I implement that with my team, and my team always gives me a lot of great feedback about feeling involved and not feeling left out of conversations and feeling like they can be themselves and be creative. And I had a lot of that from Tilisha and Angie.”