03/24/13 — Helping students 'see and reach into their tomorrow'

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Helping students 'see and reach into their tomorrow'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 24, 2013 1:50 AM

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Kiesha Cousar, center, speaks to a small group of young high school mothers and soon-to-be mothers recently in the media center at Goldsboro High School.

Kiesha Cousar, a Goldsboro native who now lives and works in Raleigh, has spent 15 years teaching youth and adults about self-esteem and pursuing their passion.

But she was taken aback recently by something she was asked by a group of high school students.

"One of the questions I received was, 'Have you been to another state?'" she said. "For them, it's so far-fetched. They can't see past today.

"I want them to be able to see and reach into their tomorrow."

It's a passion she has pursued since graduating from Rosewood High School in 1991. She is president and founder of Cousar Empowerment Institute and in 2011 published her first book, "Sister to Sister: A Guide for African-American Girls."

She was recently brought in to lead a series of workshops for young and expectant moms at Southern Wayne and Goldsboro high schools that focus on goal-setting and self-esteem.

The weekly sessions run through the end of this month and are part of her "EmpowerHER!" series.

They are being incorporated into Young Moms Connect, a program of the Partnership for Children of Wayne County, launched over a year and a half ago for new or expectant moms.

"For this particular project, we are targeting our high school girls," explained Cassie Kermode of the Partnership and director of Young Moms Connect.

"We were able to obtain some additional funding to give us the ability to do some additional programming and this is one of them."

At present, Mrs. Kermode said the program works with about 30 students at the two schools.

"I think why we're so excited about this is our program does serve 13- to-24-year-olds, because we want our high school girls to stay focused on school to have as much of a normal of a high school life as possible," she said. "Our time that we are able to actually directly, I guess, work with them instead of through the social workers or through the health educators, our time is very limited.

"Social workers are really, really good about working with them and trying to build skills. We are going to meet as a group once a month at the schools so that they can continue to have that support. It's sort of a springboard to be able to serve them a little more personally."

In her sessions with the students, Ms. Cousar uses a combination of lectures, group discussion and experiential activities.

"I'm very cautious and mindful of what discussion it takes to make an impact," she said. "What we have to do is be able to apply what has been taught into their real world."

As a mother herself, Ms. Cousar said she appreciates the opportunity to work directly with young women and give them a sense of empowerment.

"I have sat in their same seat," she said. "It means a lot (to be here). I sit there and especially when I have a chance to really look at the young lady's eyes. There are those go-off-the-script moments when you're able to have really meaningful relationships with young people and meet them where they are."

The premise of her message can be broken down to a simple concept, she says.

"You can do something very impactful with your life -- you just have to have a vision," she said. "For me to be able to come back home, that to me says a culmination of what has always been deposited into me."