Life coach shares experience helping foster youth during COVID-19

Life coach Neyla Sassi and her client Yenifer Santana.
Courtesy of Story Corps

As millions have lost jobs and are dealing with the stress of COVID-19, life coaches like Neyla Sassi are making sure people stay on the right path.

Sassi is a coach with Fair Futures, which works with thousands of middle school and high school foster children and those who have recently aged out of foster care. As proposed cuts to New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) are looming, foster youth who depend on the program may take a double hit. That’s because Mayor Bill de Blasio has also put the Fair Futures coaching model on the chopping block in the city budget.

“A lot of my kids have been affected by COVID-19,” Sassi said. “The experience I have had in this role I could never get anywhere.”

Roughly a third of teens in foster care in NYC participate in SYEP. Coaches help foster youth access resources like tutors, WiFi for online learning, stable housing and mental health services. They will also be vital to helping ensure they are engaged over the summer in the absence of SYEP and other suspended summer programs.

Sassi, 28, became a life coach in 2018 and spoke with the Bronx Times about how she is helping clients during COVID-19.

According to Sassi, the past few months have been quite challenging. Many of her clients do not have working phones or laptops, so she has had to make adjustments. Now, she and her clients communicate via Facebook Messenger.

“It’s been a lot more difficult,” she said. “There isn’t a dull moment. Things have gotten dire.”

She talks to the kids daily and noticed the younger kids are concerned about school and the older ones are worried about jobs, especially because SYEP was axed.

Sassi also speaks with foster parents, teachers and guidance counselors about how their children are doing.

“When you talk, you support them every day,” she explained.  “Usually foster kids don’t have anyone in their corner.”

These young adults often live in shelters and face financial instabilities and now they are battling COVID-19. Sassi is doing her best to help them find jobs and acclimate.

“What I do for the kids is so important,” she stressed. “I enjoy my job.”

One of her clients is Yenifer Santana, 22, of Harlem. Santana has a 5-year-old daughter and just had a baby in December. She was looking for work, but then COVID-19 hit.

Dealing with the stress of finding employment, being shuttered home with two kids and doing school virtually, Sassi’s support has been a big boost for her.

“She’s been there when I have questions or I feel like I’m losing it,” Santana said. “It’s hard to be home 24/7. I’ve been doing okay, but I can get frustrated.”

While she is getting her degree in psychology from City College, she misses the peace and quiet of doing work in the library. She added that she misses seeing Sassi in person.

“I’m one of those people that doesn’t have support,” Santana said. “Having her to guide me and be there is really helpful. I don’t feel like I am alone.”