Dwana Young ’04 is on a mission. As program support specialist / community navigator with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ Office of Resilience, Young is implementing an action plan to mitigate trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) throughout New Jersey.
Young’s passion for helping children and families in need was sparked at Montclair State. “A friend suggested I take a look at Montclair State and consider playing basketball there,” she recalls. “I fell in love with the campus and the sense of community I felt, especially after I met Coach Gloria Bradley. I saw that students come first here.”
Young, a curious student, set out on a humanities track. It was a minor in human service counseling, however, that began to change her perceptions of the world. Working in the University’s Office of Student Development and Campus Life and as a Resident Assistant brought a heightened sense of clarity to what she was learning in her counseling courses.
“I saw what some of my fellow students were going through, and how Montclair State’s professionals responded to their needs. Those experiences led me to DCF,” she says, referring to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. After a brief role as a Graduate Adjunct Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Young joined DCF as a Family Specialist – Investigator, Case Manager & Adoption Specialist, later becoming Program Manager & Policy Liaison in charge of managing federal and state-funded contracts.
In her newest DCF role as Program Specialist / Community Navigator of the DCF Office of Resilience, Young is at the forefront of making New Jersey a trauma-informed, healing-centered state.
“This is exciting on so many levels,” Young explains. “It is unique in that it is a public-private partnership with statewide scope. We have the support of Governor Murphy and the First Lady, and we are already gaining national attention as a model for combating trauma on a large scale.”
The initiative synthesizes years of work examining best practices and research, and listening to the voices of communities most directly impacted by ACEs. It identifies five areas of opportunity, including: supporting parents and caregivers; training service professionals in trauma-informed/healing-centered care; promoting community awareness; advancing family supportive policies and practices; and sharing data and research.
“We are focused on helping children and families in New Jersey reach their full potential by growing and developing in relationships that are safe, healthy, and protective, and on reducing ACE scores in future generations,” Young continues. “We will be developing resource programs and services based on what works for families. Our solutions will be based on community input and will address root causes rather than symptoms.”
Young brings a deep sense of empathy to her work. “Families often have the ability to heal their own trauma,” she says. “They just need support and mentoring – something I first learned – and saw in action – at Montclair State watching the faculty and staff work with students.”
Even though the University has grown so much since her graduation, Montclair State still feels like home to Young. “I am excited see how Dr. Koppell will continue Montclair State’s path to becoming a premier university.”
“And I’m glad to see that Montclair State remains grounded, rooted in the work and in the connections between people,” Young adds, noting that she continues to rely on former professors for career guidance.
She is just as eager to lend a hand to her alma mater whenever she can. This includes helping to develop the Red Hawk Fellows program, a critical safety net for students who have been emancipated from the foster system or who are otherwise homeless or have no immediate parental or extended family guidance. “There is a generational impact of trauma on people’s social, financial, physical and mental health,” she says. “Relationships, mentoring and support help to mitigate that.”
In fact, Young encourages every Montclair State student to build supportive connections during their time at the University. “Enjoy yourself and make memories, and really talk to your professors and the staff,” she advises. “Take advantage of the family-oriented experience you can have at Montclair State, and you will have mentors to help you throughout your career.”