Jelisha Harris, MSW
Independent Living & Transitional Living Program Supervisor
As many of us are asked to stay safe at home, the request is not so simple for children aging out of foster care. Jelisha Harris supervises Alabama’s largest Independent Living Program (ILP), helping foster teens ages 18-21 stay safe during quarantine and transition them successfully into adulthood.
Jelisha is a vital member of Gateway’s team, helping ILP staff courageously #CareThroughCOVID. Together, they help foster youth gain and maintain employment, continue online coursework, and provide access to telehealth services, housing, food and more.
Jelisha is also supervising and launching Gateway’s Transitional Living Program (TLP), where teens in foster care will live with foster parents or “launch parents.”
Find out more about Jelisha's experience in social services the last eight years and through COVID-19:
Why do you work at Gateway?
I fell in love with Gateway’s Independent Living Program (ILP) day one of my social work career. Back when I was studying for my BSW, I told my field instructor that I wanted to work with older at risk foster youth. At the time I did not know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew what population I wanted to work with. My field instructor placed me at Gateway ILP-Huntsville to complete my field practicum. At the time my supervisor was, long term employee, Ms. Pam. Her patience, kindness, rapport built with the ILP youth really amazed me. I learned to meet teens where they are and help them achieve their goals by coaching them to strengthen the skills they already had. After my practicum was complete, there were no job openings, but I always kept Gateway in mind. I had such a great experience as an intern that I decided that “I’m going to work at Gateway someday.” Years later along with some experience, here I am working for Gateway.
What is your job?
I am the ILP-TLP Supervisor. I have the pleasure of working with an amazing team to prepare foster youth for successful adulthood. Youth in foster care face staggering odds, and we have fantastic success rates helping them graduate from high school and gain employment. They just need support and encouragement like any other teenager.
What is one thing you have learned in your service at Gateway?
When you work for an agency that offers several services, but work together as one, the sky is the limit. There have been times where I feel like resources have been exhausted, but through teamwork, consulting with other program leaders, and guidance from executive leadership, I’ve learned that the service we provide to children in families is not in vain and we are really making a difference.
What has it been like serving children and families at Gateway through COVID-19?
At first, it appeared that the new practice of telemedicine would be difficult. However, it has been amazing. Providing youth with smart phones has been game changing. Not only are we able to provide secure, face-to-face telehealth services, but youth are able to find jobs, access public health information, continue online coursework and more. We have also been able to remain connected and successful as a team. Though I miss seeing everyone in person, we are seeing small windows into everyone’s lives at home.
What is a piece of advice you would share with someone thinking about working in this field?
It is absolutely rewarding. With any job, you have your ups and downs, but at the end of the day, I have a passion for this. And if you have a passion for something, especially social work, no matter the circumstance, hang in there.
Anything else you would like to share?
COVID-19 has changed the perspective on life for many people across our nation. As for me, I am so thankful for Gateway and the resources available to the agency. We all feel completely supported and equipped to respond to this national crisis. Not only that, as colleagues, we genuinely care about one another’s well-being through this; it has shown through the check-ins, meetings, and personal phone calls just to say hi and offer to pick up grocery items when out. We are a family, and we are getting through this together.
Join us in celebrating Jelisha and her service to youth aging out of foster care!
Thank you to Jelisha for the outcomes she and her team make possible for youth aging out of foster care. We are grateful for your leadership and #CareThroughCOVID.