Nicole Sonsini rocks the mic every time she shows up to work. Her job is not easy but she does it with grace, pizzazz and a fine sense of humor. Nicole works daily, encouraging youth to try their best at finding room for expressive, self-reflective practices. Those who find themselves at the Achieving Independence Center (AIC), located right here in Philadelphia, don’t usually think that making time to create art should be high on their priority list. These youth and young adults have other things on their mind, like aging out of the foster care system. This is a very real and daunting fear if you are doing it alone. Unfortunately for many of these 16-21 year old teens, the next stop is the street. The inevitable push-out-the-door cannot be avoided and is why each day is spent cramming the kind of survival skills and life lessons much of Philadelphia’s youth get to learn in a cohesive family environment, onto their full and overflowing plates.
It’s about plugging gaps and in Nicole’s words is why AIC is a “unique one stop shop for youth aging out of the foster care system.” The comprehensive resource center offers everything from life skills, housing, Planned Parenthood, mentoring and anything else their wellness team can think to offer. That’s where Nicole finds herself as the Art Coordinator; meeting youth where they are emotionally and encouraging them to paint, draw and sidewalk-art their feelings out. Processing how you feel is important, and it is her belief that art is one of the things they will need to survive on the other side as emotionally healthy adults. Walking in to AIC anyone can see that Nicole is an obvious favorite. Lives have been changed and dreams have been realized, thanks to her constant prodding to create.
CeCe is one such realization of the galvanizing spark AIC plants in each youth. “She is one of my star students,” says a glowing Nicole. An artist herself, Nicole lights up when students take her advice seriously. When CeCe first arrived she had a sharp eye and keen intuition, often rendering mirror images of faces with a pencil and paper. Yet the instability of the foster system and the looming date of her discharge kept her from seeing it as profitable. “Since her time here and especially in the ArtWell workshops, she has really taken ownership of her gift and sees it as a talent.” ArtWell has been presenting a monthly series at AIC for about a year. “It’s my favorite time of the month,” Nicole says, “ArtWell is unique in that the artists they send speak the same language as us social workers,” which is what the youth respond to. “Everyone is kind of on the same page and ArtWell has become an extension of what we do here.” Thanks to programs like AIC and ArtWell, CeCe is talking about going to college for the first time and Moore is one of the schools on her list. Not only has CeCe realized a dream, but her rocky course has been altered.