By Jenna Hammer, COTS Case Manager
Jenna is the Young Adult and Living Debt Free Case Manager at COTS. Jenna started at COTS as a University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Bachelor of Social Work Intern in September of 2012. Once she graduated in May 2013, Jenna was hired on full-time as the Young Adult Case Manager. Jenna also works with the other staff members to coordinate intakes and living skill classes at COTS. Currently, Jenna is working on obtaining her Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin Green-Bay.
The COTS Young Adult program started in 2012 to fulfill a need in the community due to young adults aging out of the foster care and juvenile systems resulting in them being homeless. The COTS Young Adult Program allows residents between the ages 18-24, who complete our 2-year program to complete the necessary living skills’ instruction to be able to live independently. They complete training with ServiceWorks, which is an intensive community-based job training program, gain the necessary job skills to obtain and maintain permanent, full-time employment, become debt-free and financially independent, gain respect of self and others, experience personal growth and development, live a self-sufficient and self-directed lifestyle, and obtain safe, stable and permanent housing.
Many of the young adults we serve come from the juvenile justice system, so they understand and expect punishment and negative consequences for their negative actions. At COTS we are turning that thinking of highlighting the negatives around. By emphasizing and celebrating the positives in the young adults’ lives, we make them recognize that the world isn’t all about focusing on the bad in someone, but instead reflecting on the good in someone.
As the Young Adult Case Manager, I have experimented with many different negative and positive reinforcement techniques since I started in May of 2013 to help my clients succeed and I think I’ve finally found what works! Instead of giving the residents a consequence for not doing their chores, not participating, and not having a clean room, why not applaud them for doing their chore, putting effort into the program, and for having a clean room? There are many residents who do what they need to do plus more that is not expected, so drawing the attention on them and praising them for their great effort and work is important.
In this journey of exploring all the different options for reinforcing the rules I am happy that I have got to where I am now with the COTS young adult program. The guys are very excited when their reward points increase weekly and are even more excited when they get to cash those points in for prizes including small amount gift cards to area businesses. Small changes add up and positive motivation is a lot more rewarding than negative consequences; it brings out the best in everyone and pushes everyone to succeed instead of setting them up for failure.
In the end, setting our residents up to succeed instead of setting them up for failure reflects our mission of Ending Homelessness in the Fox Valley. If we can change lives around from the punitive stand point to the rewarding stand point we can surely make a difference!