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Charles Sawyer - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Day in the Life: There was the time when Penny Peña’s work found her in a room with school administrators, six students and each of their mothers, discussing a violent ongoing feud between the kids, complete with a fist fight recorded for posterity. Or, there’s the time it turned out one of their student’s acting up was due to his father’s recent passing.

This job isn’t easy.

Compass’ Calling: Penny is Program Coordinator/Lead Educator for Compass, a substance abuse prevention program for youth sponsored by Hope for Miami. She and her Compass team members witness on a daily basis that students’ lives are often in turmoil and that schools are usually functioning at beyond capacity on many levels. It’s Compass’ desire to come alongside the schools’ administration and staff where they serve to help educate middle schoolers on the very real consequences of indulging in drugs and alcohol at a young age. And as you may suspect, Team Compass is no stranger to stressful situations. They’ve learned to take the punches in stride.

What Matters Most: Penny will tell you she wishes the team could do more, reach more kids, talk to more parents and disseminate more information about the dangers of drugs. But for her, the only thing that really matters is having a positive impact on an individual.

She recalls one such success story, that of a boy who was falling in with the “wrong” crowd, but who clearly had desires to be a leader and not a follower. For three years, the Compass team was able to help shape this young person’s life. A now, in high school, he’s excelling and has even joined the school’s football team.

Keeping Focus: For Penny, the key to success is understanding that the kids will challenge authority, but they will also flourish if someone is there to listen and give them a voice. Compass empowers the youth they reach by teaching leadership qualities through their Youth Leadership Council. In fact, the same boy who had lost his father, was able to channel his energy to better himself through this Council.

Penny is a true leader, bringing skills, wisdom and compassion to her vocation, as well as challenging her team to do the same.

Written by Ana D McQuattie