A fixture in the Project Coach gymnasium for over seven years, Yesenia Valentin recently stepped into the role of Assistant Program Director. Her deep experience as a mentor and coach has led her to her current role, which includes being the lead organizer of the community research team investigating what happens when Springfield youth transition into young adulthood.
PC: What are you doing now?
Yesenia: I am working full time with Project Coach as Assistant Program Director. In this role, I lead a research group of PC alums that is developing a research project through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The project aims to answer the question, “What happens after high school?” Specifically, we’re targeting the transition from high school to young adulthood. My responsibilities include leading weekly meetings with Project Coach alums, participating in weekly meetings with the Project Coach leadership team, reviewing community-based, participatory research, contributing knowledge of Springfield as a former resident and student, and helping the team decide on next steps. Moreover, I oversee much of what happens on the ground. This includes Tuesday Night Academic Programming, weekdays with Springfield coaches (9th-12th graders) and their teams of elementary-aged students, and Saturday basketball league for Springfield youth (2nd-5th graders).
PC: Tell us a highlight memory from your time with Project Coach.
Yesenia: A highlight from my time with Project Coach is how I’ve developed overtime. I started as a player coach. A player coach participates in the game being taught with the elementary students, modeling how the game is played and how to be a teammate. I then became a head coach. A head coach is different from a player coach in that he or she is responsible for executing the plan for play: a head coach introduces a game, oversees a team, and ensures every student’s participation. Next, I was a supervisor. As a supervisor, I mentored rising coaches. I lead trainings for coaches that specified how to be a coach and how to develop in the program. I now work as the Assistant Program Director.
PC: How did Project Coach impact who you are now, and what you're doing in your life?
Yesenia: Project Coach helped me develop a growth mindset. Project Coach also developed a sense of personal purpose and played a role in shaping my life as a teenager and leader in my community. I feel as though I grew up in the program. I am incredibly proud to have been able to work my way up the ladder.
PC: Team is a big part of life in Project Coach. Who’s on your team in your current life & work
Yesenia: Project Coach is my team to this day! Over time, I’ve built relationships in the North End of Springfield that I would not have developed otherwise. And of course, my new research team is providing a lot of new learning experiences and support as I develop in my new role as Assistant Program Director. Teams are powerful and I value being a part of each of these teams!
PC: What big idea, project, adventure has your attention? What’s your next play?
Yesenia: As previously mentioned, Project Coach’s most recent research project has my full attention. I’ve always been interested in youth development but never been part of a research team. It’s been amazing to collaborate with other Project Coach alums, as well as with Smith students and professors. Having grown up in Springfield, I know that students can struggle to find teams or programs that support them in and beyond school. Through my continued participation in Project Coach, I hope to create positive change in the Springfield community that leads to others gaining insight and opportunities in and beyond our city.