While it’s back to school for many, learning continues throughout the year at Covenant House. The Dove Learning Center (DLC) program created in 2017, develops resilience skills which are key to transitioning our youth to independent living and to maintaining a positive living environment thereafter. We sat down with DLC Associate Director, Alison Iannarone, to find out how the program helps the young people at Covenant House New Jersey.
From an early age my parents instilled in me the importance of helping others. When I started college I experimented with a lot of different majors, but I found my passion in Counseling and Human Services. After college I joined a program called the Jesuit Volunteer Corp where I volunteered for a year at St. Joseph Homeless Service Center. It was there that my passion for helping people who are unstably housed began. I began my career at Covenant House as a Behavioral Health Specialist in 2009 when I completed my masters in Social Work. I remained in that role for about 9 years before transitioning to the Clinical Supervisor in 2019. Then in 2021 I moved into the Dove Learning Center as the Associate Director.
Our young people don’t just learn in traditional classroom settings. We needed to be creative in our approach to helping them strengthen their resiliency skills. Youth are engaged in a blended learning environment using technology, small groups, one to one, technology, facilitated reflection led by staff and classroom activities to help them learn. We also learned that our young people have a better outcome if they have built at least one caring, positive relationship in their lifetime. With these realizations came the creation of the Dove Learning Center. In the DLC, we use a blended learning approach while also building relationships. We give young people choices and challenge them when they need it. These things have helped our young people strengthen their resiliency skills.
We identified Education, Employment, Financial Literacy, Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Wellness, and Social Navigation (how to interact with peers, employers and family) as the areas of focus to help our young people to move into a positive living environment.
The five areas are taught through technology, one on one activities, small groups, facilitated reflection led by staff, classroom and independent work. Each day a different case worker is assigned to work in the DLC. They are responsible for managing all volunteer groups for the day as well as running small groups and facilitated reflections. They also manage the technology lab by helping our young people build resumes, apply to jobs and stay focused on their case plan goals.
Currently, we have a Dove Learning Center at our Shelters in Atlantic City and Newark and our transitional housing at Raphael’s Life House. We are working on bringing the DLC to our Asbury Park Rights of Passage program.
We have found that our young people are able to obtain employment, but sometimes struggle with maintaining employment. We recognized that this gap for our young people sits in our areas of Emotional Wellness and Social Navigation and that we needed a different way to reach them in these areas. The team recognized the importance of creating and implementing more programming in the areas of Emotional Wellness and Social Navigation. With my background in mental health it seemed like a natural transition as we worked to bring more of this programming into the DLC.
I love working with the young people. They are so much more than young people who are unstably housed. They are artists and musicians; they are smart, funny and creative. In my prior role of therapist, I had good relationships with the young people who I was providing treatment for. My new role has given me even greater opportunities to interact with them everyday.
Volunteers are an essential part of the DLC. While we have case workers facilitating programs daily, we rely heavily on volunteers each and every day to bring their expertise, hobbies, creativity and fun energy to the programming we run as well. If you are interested in volunteering, hosting a community dinner, movie night or baby shower etc., please reach out to our Volunteer Coordinator, Nabijah Shabazz (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out more information.
If you have questions regarding the Dove Learning Center please contact our Coordinator of the Dove Learning Centers:
Associate Director of the Dove Learning Center (DLC)
Are you a youth in need of help?