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Paying forward a legacy of hope: Empowering at-risk groups

Nolana Nobles Bandy is using her studies at The Chicago School to take a leading role in the same kind of nonprofit agency that gave her a “Head Start” in life.

Growing up in a poor neighborhood in rural Midland, Texas, Nolana Nobles Bandy was very young when she began to notice behavior patterns in other people’s families that just didn’t make sense to her. Her grandparents, proud former sharecroppers and leaders in the community, handled grievances calmly. However, many of her friends’ parents allowed conflicts to spill into the street.

“That’s when I became interested in how people functioned,” explains Bandy, who is finishing a Ph.D. in International Psychology through The Chicago School online program. “As I went on in life, that interest stayed with me.”

Bandy will be the first person in her family to earn a doctorate degree. Her mother was the last person in her family to pick cotton.

So did another experience she had before her mother married her stepfather and moved the family to Detroit at the height of “white flight”—participating in a Head Start program that gave her and her family the support they needed to rise up and succeed.

Bandy will be the first person in her family to earn a doctorate degree. Her mother was the last person in her family to pick cotton.

Breaking the cycle of poverty

Today, that story comes full circle in every possible way. The TCSPP doctoral student is drawing on those early childhood observations and experiences as Assistant Director of Children’s Services for Matrix Human Services, a Head Start-affiliated, Detroit-based nonprofit agency that aims to break the generational cycle of poverty.

“I design systems for children that meet the performance standards of Head Start but are culturally sensitive to the families of Detroit,” explains Bandy, a certified disability specialist and autism expert who oversees 28 centers in the Detroit area. “My job is to make sure that performance standards are met in a culturally sensitive way and that they all get the same high quality service, taking in their unique needs as people.”

With a strong focus on diversity and social justice, as well as the flexibility of online programs, The Chicago School gave her exactly what she needed.

Much of what Bandy learned about cultural differences and the value of the Head Start program came from her upbringing. But to take that experience to the next level, she realized she needed to have a broader understanding of cultural psychology.

With a strong focus on diversity and social justice, as well as the flexibility of online programs, The Chicago School gave her exactly what she needed.

“Here in Detroit, we have a vast population from different countries,” explains Bandy. “All would come with a different need and a different way to address their family culturally.”

Just as she observed growing up in rural Texas, cultural differences made it hard for some families to reach out, and for agencies to give them the support they needed. In some cultures, particularly those from Arabic and Hispanic families, she learned that the approach needed to be different.

“I started looking for a program to help me with this training and The Chicago School landed on my radar with the best opportunity to fulfill my needs,” Bandy says. “I had a lifelong vision of learning as I go but I realized that I needed a comprehensive world view. The Chicago School’s international psychology program really spoke to me and that’s where I landed.”

With a Ph.D. on the horizon, Bandy is as much as a success story for Head Start and Matrix as she is for TCSPP.

The agency recently released a marketing brochure using photos of Bandy’s journey from a little girl in Head Start to a college graduate and now as a leader at Matrix.

“I really love what I do,” says Bandy, adding that her role has expanded to serve “at-risk adults” as well as children. “I think this is the most innovative, practical application of psychology in what we are doing here at Matrix.”

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