It’s not uncommon for CASES’ program staff to talk about our youth as if they were family.
“Look at this,” Moody laughs, pointing to photos on her cell phone. “When I first started they didn’t want to take photos. Now, everywhere we go, they want to pose and smile.”
Delores Moody, known to everyone as Moody, has been working with youth at CASES for about five years. But she wasn’t introduced to the agency in that capacity.
“I have two hearts: young people and baking. You know, the first time I heard of CASES was because of my cakes!” she says. “I knew someone who worked here and she would get CASES to order from me.”
When asked what she does at CASES, Moody says she encourages greatness in our young people. As a Program Coordinator with Brooklyn Next STEPS (Striving Toward Engagement and Peaceful Solutions), two evenings each week Moody works with young people ages 16-24 who live in or near Tompkins NYCHA housing in Bedford-Stuyvesant. For two hours, she leads group counseling and mentoring for about 15 young adults. Participants can attend up to 72 sessions (averaging about nine months). At each session, they share a hot meal, receive a roundtrip MetroCard, and earn a $15 stipend.
“We start off every meeting by talking about our highs and our lows,” she says. “And I’ve had some young people who have said their high point of the week was literally making it to see another day. They didn’t see themselves living to be 23.”
Tompkins was selected as a Next STEPS location due to the prevalence of crime in the housing and in the surrounding area. But Moody says this shouldn’t define the people who live there. Moody connects with young people by discovering what they’re most passionate about and working from there. She tries her best to understand their reality, and gaining their trust is one of the most important parts of her job.
“We grow together, and we learn from each other,” she says. “There are things that they go through that I never will. The most challenging thing is when they talk about being discriminated against. Many tell me they are constantly stopped and frisked by police. They know that it’s not right but will probably happen again. So, teaching and encouraging them how to keep calm is important because in a matter of seconds their lives could change.”
Part of her method of encouraging young people is her approach to goal setting. She recognizes that youth with limited opportunities can become overburdened by thinking about long-term goals, which often feel so far off that they seem unattainable. Moody finds it more helpful to focus on the present. She emphasizes goals that her participants can work toward in 30-90 days, and she helps them feel comfortable talking about their strengths.
A key component of CASES’ Next STEPS is that every meeting revolves around a hot meal.
“I believe in the power of breaking bread together,” Moody says. “Everyone is welcome at our meetings, but you can’t just stop by—we invite you to come be with us, eat with us, and talk with us.”
When she isn’t mentoring and supporting youth at CASES, Moody is making cakes, banana pudding, and other desserts at Moody Treats in Jamaica, Queens. And even then, she offers opportunities for youth to grow and expand their perspectives and experience. She is adamant about only hiring youth to work at her bakery and often partners with nonprofits (including CASES) to offer internships to young adults.
“Every day is a new day,” Moody says. “Our young people are humble. They are kind. They are respectful. I ask that they trust me enough to help them give life a chance.”