Spend two minutes with Trishonna Helm, and you’re struck by her positivity and her passionate belief in young people. As an instructor for Street Team – Civic Nebraska’s out-of-school club for McMillan, Marrs, and Morton middle schoolers that provides service-learning projects, encourages critical learning, and builds civic leadership skills – the blogger and YouTuber is a mentor, a role model, and an inspiration for Omaha youth. We caught up with Trishonna at Mixins, the Thai rolled ice cream store she co-owns, to learn more about how she makes Street Team such a success.
I got involved with Street Team three years ago. I was working at Morton after school, and I kept finding myself sitting in when Street Team took place. The club was really interesting to me, and so I met (Civic Nebraska Director of Civic Engagement Programs) Kent (Day). He said, ‘You would be great to go to a bunch of our schools.’ The rest is history.
I’ll have students consider projects, crafts, and ideas that they can personally relate to. A big part (of Street Team) is being community-based. Whether it’s making blankets and taking them to a nursing facility, or making cards for the Children’s Hospital. In one project, they personally thanked a leader in their life. We’ve made Valentine’s Day gift bags, filled them with candy, added letters and notes and taken them to different agencies. So it’s very community-based.
I always get the toughest kids, but they’re never tough with me. I know how to deal with them, with kids who might be indifferent or having a bad day. I’ll tell them, I’m not going to take away your learning experience because you’re having a bad day. They stay the whole time, no matter what.
Some kids, I’ve seen them from the time they’re in fifth, sixth grades. Now they’ve moved into eighth or ninth grade. When I see them, they’re like, “Hey Miss Trish!” Sometimes they’ve started a cool project, other times they’ve done something business-y, other times they’ve just gotten their lives on track and are doing well in school. They’re excited to tell me something positive in their life. It’s more “Guess what happened!” than “Why me?”
I love the kids. That’s why I do it. It’s so rewarding to see them beyond school and to see them grow. When parents introduce themselves to me and tell me their kids are in Street Team and tell me how much they and their kids value the time they spend in it, it’s all worth it.
The hardest part for some kids is that they grow up differently. It’s hard to tell a kid to do right when their household maybe doesn’t enforce that. Or maybe they grow up less fortunate than others. That’s why I just pour into the kids so they can see their potential. It’s really satisfying when they can see it for themselves – sometimes, years later.
When I run into former students, I hope they tell me they believe in themselves. That they tell me something they’re excited about, something they’ve done, or something they’re working on doing. That’s what I want to hear about – positivity. We can always harp on the negative, but if we speak the positive, that’s what we will focus on.
Kids need consistency. I keep the same expectations, no matter what. Say I have a group of 15 and only six show up that day – we’re still doing the same project; nothing’s changed. My expectations are still the same: Get off your phones, no cussing, be engaged.
One of the things I often speak about is ‘Why waste our today?’ I look for opportunities to spread that. A kid might be like, “I just got a camera. Maybe someday I can be a photographer.” I’m like, “Why wait? There’s another girl in our club that wants to be a model; how about you two work together?” In other words, teach kids to look for opportunities to get better. Eventually, it’s about finding something that you love and waking up with purpose every day.
Growing up, I wasn’t challenged always by my teachers and mentors. I was that kid. So if I sense that an activity we’re doing isn’t challenging enough, I’ll give the kids something else to think about.
I didn’t try to be a role model. It’s just who I am. When the kids see I can relate to them, but also that I have a lot going on for myself as an adult, they can put themselves in my shoes. They say, “If she can do it, I can do it.” I wouldn’t trade that role for anything.
I’d like to bring more creativity to the schools, like Civic Nebraska has allowed me to do. There’s a whole other world out there for our kids. Things like Street Team can show them the way.