Adam Scholtes: 00:00 Welcome back to another episode of the Skill Up Build Up podcast powered by the Morales Group. Today you're going to hear part two of our discussion with Indy Reads. We have Chris Simmons, who is the student navigator -- you're gonna hear a little bit about his story and his background and how that relates to what he does now with Indy Reads and leading students to thrive.
Adam Scholtes: 00:25 Welcome back to another episode of the Skill Up Build Up podcast. My name is Adam Scholtes. I'm here with--
Kofi Darku: 00:30 --Cohost Kofi Darku.
Adam Scholtes: 00:31 Today we have Chris Simmons. This is part two of our two-part series with Indy Reads. Last week we had Jennifer Malins on, and we're really excited to have Chris Simmons who is the student navigator, correct? For Indy Reads. Chris, welcome.
Kofi Darku: 00:46 Navigator. We learned that in the last year, roughly speaking, in 2018 Indy Reads served roughly 160 students.
Chris Simmons: 00:57 Yes.
Kofi Darku: 00:58 And those students had at least 12 hours of either interaction, something that you track that would qualify them... Though you've probably touched many more than that. Can you tell us in like in a month time frame, as student navigator, what is your case load? How many students are you typically working with?
Chris Simmons: 01:17 Well, pretty much the whole 160-some-odd students in the classroom along with whatever else is going on the side with the workforce development.
Kofi Darku: 01:24 Are you the only student navigator?
Chris Simmons: 01:26 Yes. Well, I'm the main student navigator. We have a part-time instructor / student navigator, but I'm the main one and I'm the full-time, when you put it that way. I'm in that role. It's very, it's a variety of, of opportunities. You deal with individuals. I'm helping them with all of their barriers, preventing any kind of situations for them or assisting them with any kind of situations to help them become, more focused and, I guess navigate them to a point where they can start connecting the dots.
Adam Scholtes: 01:57 You're the, you're the only one with a part time... You're the only student navigator with one person full-time, right, with part-time help. I mean if I'm doing the math, that's-- though the ratio is pretty high for you -- how do you, how do you kind of juggle everything that's going on? Cause I, I gotta assume there's multiple issues or concerns with each student.
Chris Simmons: 02:15 Yes, constantly. My, my strength, as a business we, we focus on strengths of, of the individual and my strength is adaptability. So with that adaptability, I mentally have 15, 16 cases going on, in my head along with the 15, 16 I have in front of me.
Kofi Darku: 02:32 And so, wow. Oftentimes, so in our work and audience members should be aware, through our workforce development program at Morales Group, we're trying to focus on some key barriers that you play a main role in, in terms of a lot of people we're trying to place in better jobs. They may have some type of language barrier. They may have a transportation barrier, they may have a childcare barrier. I'm illuminating the three main barriers we focus on just to highlight the fact that as student navigator, Jennifer shared with us that sometimes as she's informally screening students, she's realizing that they haven't eaten in a week and then she's going to you to try and help solve this food insecurity problem. What other types of barriers are you trying to help address? Because I mean, I've heard this a lot because I have this education background. If, if students are hungry, they're not going to be great learners, but there's other things that are distracting people in their lives that, it seems like once Jennifer is informally screening them and she finds out the barrier that's preventing them from doing well in this class, she's going to you to help them solve this problem. How, what types of problems are you trying to address and how do you solve those problems?
Chris Simmons: 03:45 Well, again, you said the food barriers, one of them, one of the issues with... you have housing. You have, just the disconnect to society. You have a group who's connected through society through their assistance. So you're looking at their food service assistance. When I say food service, I'm thinking of FSSA, supportive services where they might not get food stamps but they get medical services. So with that, just having the medical services gets them to the point of having mail or documents that they need to read, anything to keep them housed. It could be just conflicts of just getting mail and not knowing what to do with it. So we talk about food. For example, it could be me connecting them with the food pantry. I shouldn't say, but me personally go out and buying some basic necessities for them. When it comes to the housing, I'm connected to several groups in the city for partners. What does it, some youth partners, some adult partners for housing, some just counseling groups that based on the trauma that the person has been involved in, they, they can actually place them. So just really just finding out what the core situation for that person is.
Adam Scholtes: 04:57 Like a concierge for them.
Chris Simmons: 04:59 Pretty much just whatever.
Kofi Darku: 05:01 So, and it's true, Jennifer mentioned also, sometimes domestic violence is an issue, and as you mentioned counseling, what do you do when you find out one of your students is involved in a domestic violence situation?
Chris Simmons: 05:14 Work with one of the abuse centers on my right hand and work with that person, try to get them out of that situation on the left hand, and be very accessible for that person just in case whatever might happen. Try to make sure they have some security. Being at the library, I'm close with our security department there, which allows me to be close to the Indiana State, Indiana police department also. So having that connection, I can get hands-on instant contact, right then, when it comes to those kinds of situations. I'm dealing with that barrier of having that domestic person, like say, scared to leave the house, try to get somebody to go to that house to assist them. And again, as far as security, with, with police and things, that really is just, everything -- you're talking, I could talk to somebody today, they'd be homeless and not have a phone tomorrow and get to the office to talk to me to try to get a bus pass to get somewhere to get some assistance.
Kofi Darku: 06:10 So with all these insecurities and issues that your clientele have and bring to you, is there ever a time where they refuse to help that you're offering them and, they're reluctant to take what you're trying to provide? What do you do in those situations?
Chris Simmons: 06:28 In that situation? Well, my personality is a whole different ball game when it comes to people. And when it says that, when people say I'm a people person, that is an understatement. I can get buy in from pretty much anybody, I can sell water to a whale. So it's, it's one of those things that, again, I'm the first person they get to meet and greet when they come to the program. That's usually a group that has dealt with me or referred by another group to say, "Hey, I got a guy that you could definitely need to talk to. They can help you." And then that's where the trust comes in. I haven't had anybody say they don't want the help. They might be reluctant to talk to me at first. But again, by the time I break that, that wall down, it's, it's not even a conversation -- they're, they're coming, they're running to me. Even if they don't have conversation, communication, they get community, get someone to communicate something to me through the grapevine that we have connected.
Kofi Darku: 07:19 It sounds like as we have this two-part series, both you and Jennifer are really suited for this job because it doesn't seem like you have a large staff and you have a lot of people that you're trying to help that are at various stages in their lives that they need this help to get to that next stage. And, something that we do on this, this podcast is that we try and help people understand, well, who's the person behind that? So Chris, we got a lot of Hoosiers at this table and we want to understand what's your Hoosier background, you know, what was your upbringing, where did you grow up and, and what experiences did you have in your childhood that helped you become this overachieving people person?
Chris Simmons: 08:04 Here we go! I'm born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. I come from a family of educators. My father is one of 12. My mother is the only girl of eight. They connected, or they got together and, we grew up in downtown Louisville, right in the center of -- not in the downtown area, but right in the areas of Louisville, not the projects -- but we had a house. But my parents had a different view of the life, again, coming from their backgrounds. They said, "hey, let's get our kids out of the city." And they moved us to what's called Floyd County, Indiana.
Kofi Darku: 08:47 Right across the Ohio River.
Adam Scholtes: 08:49 Like Floyds Knobs?
Chris Simmons: 08:51 Yeah. Floyd County, so Floyds Knobs.
Kofi Darku: 08:52 New Albany is the largest city --
Chris Simmons: 08:56 Multicultural city, let's say that, for New Albany. When you look at the two areas, New Albany is multicultural and Floyds Knobs is majority, the majority is Caucasian. One culture, not multicultural enough. But when we moved over there, there were two African American families in my city, in the area I lived in, which was Edwardsville. So that was first a culture shock, which was not a culture shock in the fact that I wasn't aware, only because again, my parents gave us a variety of lifestyles. Again, being born and raised in Louisville, we still had roots in Louisville, so we had all the city and all the, the city atmosphere, went to school in what's called New Albany, which is across, right across the water, where it was a private school. So, it wasn't a culture shock due to the fact that it was a smaller educational institution that allowed, again, the growth and the more knowledge-based or one-on-one, not one-on-one, but more connectiveness -- when you look at public schools versus private schools. Did that between Louisville, middle school, elementary school, middle school... New Albany, same thing, but it was the private school there. By the time I got to high school, I went to the public school. I was, let's just say, three of 2000? And take your view what that picture looked like, haha.
Kofi Darku: 10:21 And when you say three, you're talking about three black students.
Chris Simmons: 10:24 Three black students in the population of about 2000 students. And, again, it wasn't a culture shock due to the fact that I grew up there. So I grew up there as a young child, so I guess between six to 15, I was really an interactive -- wow, made me think of some things, haha -- being in Floyds Knobs, that was the first issue that we finally saw, I want to say prejudice in the, in the realm that again -- Okay. Alright. -- We're talking to blacks in the area. So, my father would, he was an electrician. My mother, she was a teacher. So again, we're talking, my father taught the vocational school during the day and was electrician at night, we had our own business, electrical business at night and my mother was a full-time teacher and student. So that's where the education side of the world came from. And then the passion of teaching was, "I'm fighting this. No, I'm not a teacher." It's in my blood. I can't help it.
Kofi Darku: 11:25 What career aspiration did you have at that time? Like high school, going into college? What did you want to be?
Chris Simmons: 11:32 I really didn't know. I'm more like these generations today, I just wanted to make money. My father, electrician, so we got to experience that world of being electrician helpers and things of that nature. And he ran his own business. So I got to see that side of life. Yes. But again, dealing with the area I lived in, that was still a stigma. We were still a stigma and we weren't the normal group of African Americans or to do what a normal group of blacks that they're used to seeing on TV or hearing about. So, I think we broke the barrier by my father, we do electrical work in the neighborhood for people as they needed it, but not charge them as an electrician, we charge them as a friend. That really broke the, that broke the barriers down.
Kofi Darku: 12:14 And he ran his own business, which is significant.
Chris Simmons: 12:18 And then seeing that, yeah, but seeing that too, I was like, I don't know. It just, again, this all depends. So I actually grew up doing part-time work on the farm. We had a, I was into mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles in the country. So again, we didn't have a license, but that didn't bother anybody, we're out in the country. So my ways of making money was go through the strawberry patch -- when I wanted money, to go make money. But again, that educated me into seeing different types of people, understanding how people lived, how to, understanding different cultures, understanding, just life, at a young age.
Kofi Darku: 12:53 Quickly, you described three distinct worlds, a Louisville world, which is very urban, much more diverse, definitely much larger population of African Americans or blacks. Then New Albany, where there's a big switch, not as many blacks. And then as you realize there's ways of you making money, and you can go out to the rural areas, collect some strawberries. It was less populated and probably more homogenous, probably even more whites than... Not any blacks at all.
Chris Simmons: 13:25 That's what I'm saying, that's where we live.
Kofi Darku: 13:26 And you learned how to live in and find joy in all of those worlds and connect with the people, I think. Yeah.
Chris Simmons: 13:32 And connect with people. Yes. That, that's what was, again, we saw different types of people, learned about different types of people. Again, I was friends with my neighbors, so at times, we didn't have word fights, if you understand what I'm saying, you know, but I know the culture and the families were there, they had those, those, those prejudices. So again, "don't come in my yard, don't come in my house." So hey, you know, "hey, I was over at his house." "Come on, you got to come home. You know, get out of, get out of their house, get out of their yard." Those kinds of things. It was, it was just so disconnected.
Kofi Darku: 14:02 Kids interacting with...
Chris Simmons: 14:03 Yes. So again, not knowing anything about that, I was still blind to the fact. But again, my parents had that low-income struggle to come up. And again, not seeing it, but going to visit family, we saw the different family members in different situations. So it was like, hmm. So again, the assumptions of how we lived versus how they lived. Again, we're talking 15, 20 minutes across the bridge. We never had company. If we did, we went to the city. Again if we had a special event, we might've had, but again, all of our activities where we would go to the city for what was going on.
Kofi Darku: 14:37 So see, that's another dynamic that people don't think about. Your family in Louisville wasn't coming out to visit you where you now live, probably through apprehension.
Chris Simmons: 14:50 So again, just dealing with that, you learn your family. Now again, it's again, you're dealing with people in a terms of strangers, complete strangers, you're dealing with family, people that you know, family that you really don't know, but you're getting to know. And then just life growing up as a teenager, it became just, it was, it was just amazing, you know, just, just going through that. Now to move forward, how this whole thing kind of started to evolve. I actually graduated high school in New Albany. I went to, I went to Louisville for my junior year, which was a college prep school and my parents were real big with college and my mom just got her master's, I think at that time, working on her doctorate. My dad, had his teaching and his master's, if I'm not mistaken. And his education with the, with the business. So there were big with college. So that's why I went to the college prep school, learned about, "Ooh, this is a whole nother life." That's where I found what rich people were. I was there on a scholarship. They were there paying the bill and not having any issues going to lunch every day. So, again, learning another dynamic of life, which gave me, "I need to get out and really experience this." So, my junior year was, like I said, in Louisville at the college prep school. My senior year was in New Albany where I actually graduated. So I graduated in the multicultural school at that time. And being from the Knobs, I got to drive to school. I was in a different world anyway. So again, I've always been a step ahead I think because I have a brother, again, as my family is a family of four, I have an older brother and as the youngest I got to just--
Kofi Darku: 16:25 Oh yeah.
Chris Simmons: 16:26 Just, I just got to pick up everything from everybody. And then being with my mindset, it really wasn't working. I'm just kind of just picking it up, not knowing what, what I'm doing with it, which is kind of the way I work today. I can just pick it up in this mind and then recall it at at will.
Adam Scholtes: 16:39 I was going to say, as you were talking, I was, I was, I was correlating back to your role at Indy Reads and this all makes sense now. Yeah, 100%.
Chris Simmons: 16:48 So again, going to different areas, doing different things, different people. That doesn't bother, phase me. What I did was to put myself in the situation where I got to learn life. When I graduated high school, I was out, I left, I moved to Alabama.
Kofi Darku: 17:01 Oh, so really?
Adam Scholtes: 17:03 Well, just what, why, why Alabama?
Chris Simmons: 17:05 College! The parents were in the school. We had, I went to a college called Oakwood College, this Adventist college they have down there, but there was also UAH, University of Alabama-Huntsville, and Alabama A&M. So that's the reason why I decided to go to Alabama. Again, it just to have the experience of college first and then I was like, "oh, I like this world. I don't like college. I like this world." So what I did, I just took my core classes.
New Speaker: 17:32 [laughter] [inaudible]
Chris Simmons: 17:39 That's what people don't understand. I always had freedom. I remember being in the Knobs. I never had a curfew. I always got to go to town. I had a car, I didn't have to worry about anything. Again, it was, I thought, didn't think anything about it, but looking at it now, I was like, wow, I'll wasn't too bad off looking at how it was, but my parents made me earn all this stuff. They never gave me anything. That's where the work ethic came in, and that's where the mindset, if you tell them, I tell you I'm gonna do something, it's done. So again, going through all these experiences in life and then going to school, all the background led to all these different types of environments, people, everything. So in Alabama, I did my core classes my freshman year. My sophomore year I was like, oh, this is not working. I started learning the city a little more cause then I could drive. I drove myself to college at that point. So again, being independent, got to go to drive to college. Now I got to move around a little bit more. By this winter break, I was through with college. I moved back to Kentucky, finished up my school at K State, finished out that year. So Kentucky State University. So we're looking at, freshman year, done, sophomore year, done, maybe a couple of classes toward, now a career. Didn't know what I wanted to do. I was finished with school, though. I moved back to Alabama.
Kofi Darku: 18:55 So, so what was your major? Like you're just getting general coursework done?
Chris Simmons: 19:00 I had, I had a major, communication was one mindset. "I like this kind of idea." I was like, "Ooh." And then, teaching was not there. It was like, "I want something corporate." So I didn't know what I wanted to do there. Then it was okay -- Understand, I took some communication classes, some basic, fundamental classes, a little bit of education, a little bit development, a little bit of, you know, a little bit of this and that. But when I went back to Alabama after my junior year, I mean after my sophomore year, I moved down without school. I just saved up money, paid some bills up so that I can move down there and then went down--
Adam Scholtes: 19:36 Because you like the world.
Chris Simmons: 19:36 I like the world. Yes.
Kofi Darku: 19:38 You figured out how to separate college from the world and he was just going down for the world now.
Chris Simmons: 19:42 And now I have three colleges in the city I live in. And I'm working. I'm a young man working and I have my own place. So again, that was motivation. I was like, I'm learning life. Again, different things happen. I've put myself in situations that sometimes were good, sometimes bad, but it helped me learn again. I learned people. So again, I'm not going to let somebody just tell me something. That's one of the faults my son has. I actually have to experience it or again, at this point you can tell me I'll do, listen, but again, happened to experience a lot of things. I went down there and lived for about three and a half, almost about three and a half years and then came back to finish school, went back to Louisville and finished school and again, what caused that was a lot of work experience. I did a lot of jobs.
Adam Scholtes: 20:28 And what were you, what were you doing down there? Workwise?
Chris Simmons: 20:31 I was actually in production. I was in production. I was a manager for a rework for a wire harness group called Eunice's. So we say wire harnesses, you think about the post office, you're talking military, all those pop up devices, the scales and things. What they're wearing inside of that, we actually created that. We built those from scratch with one wire at a time.
Adam Scholtes: 20:50 So you're probably working with a diverse population?
Chris Simmons: 20:52 At that time? Yes, very diverse. Then and then again, Alabama, southern, very southern. So that was a whole nother, I thought I was southern with Indiana and Louisville. No, I was big city with Louisville when it came down to it. But then when you look at where, what Oakwood or where Huntsville had in the, in the area was, you're talking multicultural, now you're talking about three different colleges, three different, I mean the types of people, I mean totally talking about the religious group at the Adventist college, you're talking about the in-house or in-state group at the university, UAH, University of Huntsville. Then for the Alabama A&M, that was the big, that was more national college thing, HBCU almost type thing, you know. So again, learning those different things and being down there in that environment, meeting people, I got again, that is where, if you, if you asked a lot of people, they would say they would think I'm from Alabama. If you ask people now they will think I'm from Louisville or I'm from Indianapolis, people here think I'm born and raised here. I'm like, no, I still can't tell you how to get all these sides together. Nope. Nope. I'm still navigation all the way. No, 100%. I go to Louisville all the time because that's my friends. Haven't got that way. The city's grown so much since I've been here.
Kofi Darku: 22:05 It's true. Indy is blowing up.
Chris Simmons: 22:07 But just again, going out, learning different things about different areas, different places, different people. That's where the different-- or understanding how things work came into play. Alabama really taught me a lot.
Kofi Darku: 22:21 Can you help us understand what was your job before you came on to Indy Reads?
Chris Simmons: 22:26 Oh, well we can back up from there then. So the education in Alabama was production. When I left Alabama, I came back to Kentucky for school. I got my teaching degree-- so I didn't get a teaching degree, I got a training and development as my degree. Training, development. Off training and development, there's a branch, I did a teaching and special ed specialty. And then off of that I did a master's with workforce, development of-- not workforce development-- workforce training, computer-based is my focus.
Kofi Darku: 22:56 Why did you start to focus on that?
Chris Simmons: 22:59 Because the degree that I got actually used real life experiences, so that was part of my degree. I got to use my work experience because I was an older student.
Kofi Darku: 23:09 They let your life experience and how you quantified and documented it -- that counted as credits?
Chris Simmons: 23:15 Yes sir.
Kofi Darku: 23:16 Wow. Which got you closer to actually getting a degree.
Chris Simmons: 23:20 And again, a lot of my positions and you know, I was, I was a a rework manager for a production group. Well and, that required training. I trained all the people who came with my team, my degree is in training and development. When I came to Louisville, I got jobs-- but my first jobs were actually in call centers. And again, that's where I got the background in the call center environment. I worked at Sprint as inside sales. I sold IT to businesses, 800 numbers and things like that. That was-- again, I was, I was through then, I was fine. So again, you find your niche and it's like, oh, I didn't think I would like this, but I got into it. Prior to that I was actually a teacher, so I actually taught in the Indiana, in the Louisville school system, the Jefferson County public school system. I taught special ed. And I've taught everything from kindergarten to junior college.
Adam Scholtes: 24:12 So Chris, so I remember when I was in school, I switched my major and I remember my dad having a conversation with me on the phone going, "what? What" Well, I declared a major and it was sports management and he goes, "what the heck is sports--? No, no, no. You're not doing this, right? You're not going to Ball State for a sports management degree." Your parents are educators and you're going to school and then you're stopping school and then you're starting up again. What were your parents' feelings with you doing that? Making those choices?
Chris Simmons: 24:39 The initial, "I'm stopping college from Alabama, moving back to Kentucky." They, "okay, you still going to school? That's no problem." When it was, okay, "I'm ready to quit K-State and move back to Alabama to work," they were like, "ah, but you don't have your degree." And I said, "some people don't need a degree" and what it is, again, I found it about life. Think about it: a lot of people out there don't work and survive. A lot of people do work and survive, so I've got to, again, educated myself around the world of how to survive.
Adam Scholtes: 25:09 But your parents are hearing you going back to work in Alabama. They're hearing you're going to play in Alabama. No? Right? In their mind that's what they're thinking.
Chris Simmons: 25:18 I was, again, an independent young man at that point, they had nothing to do with my life. I mean again, they were my family, they were my parents, but again, I was self-sufficient by then. They couldn't tell me what to, I mean--
Kofi Darku: 25:28 So it was more a matter of, look, I'm just going to prove this. I'm going to show you that this is going to be all right for me. I can leave this school situation, go into a work climate and I'm going to figure out what's the best for me. And it sounds like, but we really would love to get in your parents' minds. It sounds like your parents just accepted that and were fine with it. When we know a lot of parents are probably still concerned about how is this going to turn out for you?
Chris Simmons: 25:54 Again, my parents were very religious so they left it up to God and said, "okay, this, this is what he chooses. He chooses to do this. Just keep an eye on him." I went and again, when I, when I left, enjoyed myself, came back, came back in a situation that, okay, I have to finish school because again, I had a mindset where I've gotten, I can't, I want to say I got screwed over a couple of jobs. I had opportunity, I was one of the ones that had education in the building, but I was one of the lowest paid people in the building. I had the office, slept in the back, but no money go along with it. Raises came around, a little raise. I was like, "okay, this is, I'm through with this," and I sent my, I don't think it was a two week notice. I said, "okay, I'm through. I'm going back to Kentucky." When I went back to Kentucky again, I'm self, independent. I just needed a place to stay. I went, registered for school and got back into University of Louisville and that's when I utilized all the skills and, and aspirations and work that I had done in Alabama and brought it to Kentucky.
Adam Scholtes: 26:56 So as long as I'm hearing the story, so I'm gonna tie this back to Indy Reads. Yeah. So I mean you're recognizing that you, you may be getting taken advantage of. And we talked to Jennifer in part one where a lot, a lot of the students you work with, they get taken advantage of and they just, they just don't care, "this is just how it works." You're able to recognize it. You have the life experience, you're a people person. You live in all these diverse worlds, we'll say. Right. So I, I completely see now how much of a value you bring to Indy Reads, not only to Indy Reads, but to even the 160, and, would you say 15 to 16 cases you have?
Chris Simmons: 27:34 Oh, that's the day. That's, yeah, it could be 30, 40 a day. Who knows? It just is quick fixes and taking care. Yeah.
Adam Scholtes: 27:39 Maybe you, but you, you now can like open up doors in a way that maybe Kofi, myself or Luisa or whoever can't really do for these folks. You're able to let them see things like what's going on in their life here, here in Indianapolis or wherever they're at and help, help kind of navigate? Yeah, right? I mean just doing that and that's it. That's it.
Chris Simmons: 28:00 The picture in front of them. Again, it's not about education sometimes. It's a skillset. If you've got a skillset, that is, you've been educated, so getting, get them to understand that you get, if you never worked and hustled all your life, you've got a hell of a skill. Again, how to survive. That's the number one, how to get by, how to get around the system. Well, again, you need to be working for somebody to help them debug, try to figure out obstacles that people run into, how to get around things and or become an accountant because you can count and find how to move money around and things like that. It just happened to helping them see those things happen and again it's not really showing them, listening to them, understanding what their view is, putting myself in their shoes. Again, empathy is one of my big things, but again, I've got empathy along with adaptability where I can say, I can get in your shoes now, I can walk with you. And then again, you don't know I'm walking with you the whole time I'm doing it. I'm educating a lot of people and they might not know it's being done, but then I say, do this. They jump up and do it. Or I could say whatever to anybody and they won't think anything about it because they know it's from the heart. But let anybody else try to use the same words, terms, try to explain or discuss something with somebody and they'd be like, they're not going to get it. Like you see that wall go up real quick.
Kofi Darku: 29:07 So indirectly, I find that this is really fascinating because as you finally got the credits for a degree, a lot of those credits came as a result of your life experience and work experience being recognized as something that would help you quantify a degree. And I find that as student navigator and as you're helping people deal with a variety of barriers that are in front of them as they're trying to proceed, it seems like you may have a gift at helping them understand and validate things they may have done that they may not be assessing or ascribing as valuable, but you were able to help them realize "no, that what you have done is a valuable skill and it needs to be part of how you move forward because you can help yourself get a better living based on that skill." So as a student navigator, even though you're really focused on helping people improve not only literacy but possibly their English proficiency, there's a side of all of these individuals that are coming from these very diverse backgrounds, where if you can empathize and adapt with them, you're helping them realize other skills that may be important and valuable for them as they move forward in their life and figure out how they're going to, let's just be real about it, make money and so secure an income for themselves and their family.
Chris Simmons: 30:31 I think about when I moved to Indianapolis, my wife's job brought us to Indianapolis. My job at the time, I'm one of the individuals who was in that, banking corporation fall-down. I was with City Group at the time, so again, I worked at your call centers, in the call center. I was, again, I educated my group who I'm, I'll move on as it goes on, as it goes on, but with me educating, it's like I did a call center with credit cards. It's like how to upsell a credit card, how to handle a credit card when you came to my class the first two days, we're just gonna shut the book. I'm sitting on the table and we're gonna discuss life. And again, that's educating them about life. When I say life, we're talking about a credit card. So you think about, I'm not, that's kind of odd how you do that, you know? But again, what I'm doing is relating their real world experiences to what the education side is going to be. So when you look at education, it's just how to transfer knowledge, transfer skills. But again, it's teaching the skills, but the person has to have the, the ability to utilize their physicality to do that. So when you look, when you look at how people learn, it's the same as a skill. It's just, okay, you just got to find the niche that connects them. So again, having that opportunity, you see people just kind of just not just running in circles, but then when they finally see that opening, they kind of moved toward it then. So that's kind of where this whole process came in. When I, when I, when I moved down here again, it was one of the things being a victim from the bank I took on the role of house husband, I was Mr. Mom again. Another view to life that, again, people don't get to see, a lot of people, even if you're a woman that goes through it. Yes, you know about it because being a woman, but being a man, doing that, just a whole different view and then being a black man doing it's a whole tripled, triple view, different view. And again, having, having that on the back and having that ability to to the end and then be compassionate and be, yes. Oh my goodness, breaking down, don't, again. You don't trust yourself. You live to take care of others. Making sure the wife has all her things in order to make sure she get to work. And you know, again, I'm still doing the man things but again I have this whole different hat on now. So again, moving that life again, being in that trauma state, going from I was making really decent money in the corporate world. I would have been there seven, eight years, comfortable, wouldn't plan on going, I planned to retire from the company I had, I had a personal trainer, we had a cafeteria in the place, I had my own office, we had training labs, everything state of the art. I was happy. I was trained, the training, I was one of the lead trainers cause I trained the other trainers. So again, going out of that, to then not having that, those abilities or getting, getting removed from another opportunity because again, they don't need my services cause there's not enough turnover. But again, I come with the background of, with versatility, that I could really do pretty much anything if you just let me go. But again, it's learning about people. Now corporate again, I had some corporate experience but then learning people higher level, corporate, how that interacts with people. So I was with a company that I was let go, after I was told I was going to be trained. So now different, even different type of mindset. But learning these things again helped me as a navigator, now help these other people that I'm working with now get over these hurdles. And it's, again, it's easy for me to see the light because again, what they're going through, as a navigator, I'm, I'm putting those lights in front of them. But again, all the experiences that led me to the point that it is today, it was the getting kicked while I was down, learning how to survive, being on unemployment, unemployment and cut off, finding resources for myself that I didn't know. I don't qualify for a lot of stuff cause the wife's still working. So now I've got to go find supportive services for myself. So finding groups or finding opportunities for that. And I was like, wow. So then by doing that, that's when I got into this nonprofit world again. You're looking at 15, 20 years of education. Now you're looking at 10, 15 years of workforce development. But during that time, as a good solid 10 years of just life experiences, teaching others how to do it.
Adam Scholtes: 34:33 And how long have you been at Indy Reads?
Chris Simmons: 34:35 This is going on the third year, Jennifer... The CEO was hired, Jennifer's right behind him and now I was right behind Jennifer. Jennifer was in July. I was hired in August '16, I think.
Kofi Darku: 34:44 Real quick or however long you want, Jennifer made us aware that a number of the clientele come to Indy Reads with a record and they're still looking for employment. And based on some of the things you have already shared in this episode, I'm curious about how do you help them start to possibly have a more positive outlook on their opportunities. How do you help them be able to speak positively about what they can contribute in an employment sense? Because, our justice-involved individuals or our second chance individuals face a lot of barriers to get back into employment. How do you, and I have an inkling that I, I may understand what your answer could be, but how do you help those individuals start to pivot towards better opportunities for themselves?
Chris Simmons: 35:40 First of all, just get them to buy into the fact that, yeah, you messed up, but that's life. You are in the university behind the bars and you learned a lot more lessons about how to survive in the streets versus how to survive in the classroom.
Kofi Darku: 35:52 The university behind the bars.
Chris Simmons: 35:55 That's another university! Again, you learn so much more behind bars than on the streets because again, they're sitting there contemplating what they gonna do when they get out.
Kofi Darku: 36:03 But let's dig in a little bit there. Sometimes what they're learning in the university behind the bars is not the positive thing that's going to help them once they get out.
Chris Simmons: 36:14 None of it's positive. That's what I'm saying. That's why I say university behind the bars, and we're not talking about education, life experience, we were talking about life survival skills. Even better, life more connects.
Kofi Darku: 36:22 And usually some of those life survival skills may be more on the crime side.
Chris Simmons: 36:27 Like 90% of them? Yeah. That's where again, what I'm doing is helping them educate. I'm educating them on how to take that experience and now use it for what they can do.
Kofi Darku: 36:37 So that is not going to involve crime.
Chris Simmons: 36:39 Right. That's exactly right. But again, it's helping them understand that part though. Because again, when you go in there and get back out, you go through all these programs, you go through restitution, go through your PO, go through all this. But again, it's still setting you up for failure. So again, now how do you get beyond that? They're going to go through the normal programs, go through the groups that hire certain groups and there's going to be the same group of people that you saw while you were in. We try to break that role, the mold. So as a student navigator, one of my roles is I go out and find new contacts and I connect and explain to these businesses that I'm connecting with, "hey, I have these types of people here. What is the limit that you can accept?" And again, it's not, I can get you, anybody got a degree, we don't need that. I'm trying to find decent jobs that are out of the norm that start changing the mindset of other businesses. So again, to getting the, when I get that person who's been in, they get out, I'll try to, I can, once I talk to them, it's a certain conversation you have with them to help them understand. I still have friends in prison too, so again, I talk to them on a regular basis and they, we discuss life. So again, what I can talk to my friends that are in prison, about life, I can bring that same conversation to those on the street who just got out. One of the things I try to educate my friends who are in prison, again, they have an idea that they want to get out and they don't want to go back to doing the same thing that they were doing, but at the same time when they were out, I was educating them, don't do what you're doing as a full-time job. That's not a full-time job. Again, it's a hustle. That's what you need to look at it and step out and go legal. But, you can't tell somebody that when they bring in more than I make in a couple of years in a couple of hours.
Kofi Darku: 38:17 Furthermore, their infrastructure or the whole life that they've known may be reliant on that whole network, that if they're going to go legal, they may need to create a whole new group of friends. They may need to find a different type of job that doesn't allow them to slip back into old habits and patterns, which is very difficult. Do you ever play a role in that? How do you help them? Because it's great that you're talking to employers, but then how do you help the individuals not slip back into old habits that will then lead to recidivism?
Chris Simmons: 38:47 And that's where we find these other groups out there, finding support groups. And again, if I'm going to support you with a group, I'm going to show up at that group with you, or for you, to see if you're going to show up.
Kofi Darku: 38:57 Wow.
Chris Simmons: 38:58 If you don't show up then now I can see you're not trying.
Kofi Darku: 39:00 Your kids must be grown because you seem to be doing a lot of work. Man.
Chris Simmons: 39:06 I've got a nine-year-old going to fifth grade this year, and then a 12th grader, he's going to be 17. He goes, he's actually home this year, so I've got a senior and a fifth grader and sometimes you know, they don't think I know anything. Yup. Nothing.
Adam Scholtes: 39:21 Mom and Dad never know anything. Yeah, I'm 34, I'm just realizing my mom and dad know some stuff. Yeah. You start really like, Oh, Mom and Dad are right. Yeah.
Chris Simmons: 39:32 I remember the days that I did that. Now, my dad almost, I mean my dad and I are best friends. This is more of a, we just talk, is more, again, we're both in a different, we're in the married world so you know, I talk to him, I was like, man, your wife is this, and he was like, he was like, Hey, well he talks to my wife. He doesn't get, it's all those things which is more, it's adaptive. We're, we're, we're, we're together. Now again, what he was trying to educate me too, coming up, I didn't see it. I was like my son, he was like, "well I know what I want, to experience it." But again, I had the, coming up when I was growing up, we listened. The social media today, gives the child or it gives this individual the sense that they know more than what they know. We didn't have that back when I was growing up.
Adam Scholtes: 40:10 How do you connect with the ELL, maybe the non-native speakers at Indy Reads?
Chris Simmons: 40:16 It's all in the smiling. Smile and Google translate. That's all. Again, I don't speak any language. I speak English only and I do all the orientation. I do all orientations. If it's, what I do is utilize my students,
Adam Scholtes: 40:31 It's all in the smile?
Chris Simmons: 40:32 It's all in the smile, yeah.
Kofi Darku: 40:33 Google Translate, but then he also said something really deep there. If he is trying to effectively communicate with others, there may be one student that he's going to have better communication with and then make sure that student then gets the message to those that may not understand English as well.
Chris Simmons: 40:48 Or some of our older students, from our previous students, the ones that graduated, high level students that no longer, we can no longer serve, but serve on a different level. They're like an ambassador, get them to come and help me translate. Or like I said, when we have our site here, get as big of a group as we can, find out what language I'm predominantly working with, create my documents to follow up and then I just talk English and they translate for me. And again, it's just one of the things that they, they trust me and I get a text number, the fact that our communication is not going to be, an opportunity, but we can text. So I take my text number and texting, copy, paste and translate my language to whatever they say. I don't know what it's saying when I send it to them, but again, I take my English version, just usually Google Translate and translate to whatever language it is and then send it to them. I'll send them an English written version and the translated version to make them feel, so again, if they have somebody that does speak a little, with the kid or whatever, they can actually read the English version to know what the Spanish words or the Latin version, whatever it is they're supposed to say.
Adam Scholtes: 41:50 And there's only one Chris at Indy Reads that does your-- Oh, you said, you said there's the part-time person too.
Kofi Darku: 41:55 So Chris, wow, you have shared a lot of information with us, but I think our audience as I am, we're very curious about where is Indy Reads going. You know, in part one we understood that there are some funding struggles, but where do you see Indy Reads going if they maintain the same level of funding, where do you see Indy Reads going in the next five, seven / 10 years?
Chris Simmons: 42:17 I can see us getting some outside funding to help. We don't know where it's going to come from, but just this gut feeling saying something's going to come through to assist us with. Again, we can keep some of the funding from the state, which allows some programs to go on. But I think with what we're doing, it is catching on. The word's getting out. Somebody is going to come around and really assist us and I would love to see us in a building, you know, one-stop building where we would have classes but still be community based. So yeah. And then again, people get to see a whole different side. They would feel differently. Like, like you said, when they come into Morales, they know they're coming to work, but if they come to any reason it could be work, could be education, could be the bookstore, could be just to see, see us for counseling. It's just whatever. But hopefully there'll be a few more student navigators under me by then. I got to train them. But again, it's how to, I don't know how to train anybody for this. You can't train this mindset.
Kofi Darku: 43:12 That's true. Your life has equipped you and it's true. Like you, you kind of have to have their life story to see, "Okay. I think your life experiences prepared you for this." Well Chris, wow. Thank you for illuminating so much for us on this episode. If our audience wants to contact you or learn more about how they can either support Indy Reads or participate in either volunteer services, how would they get in contact with you?
Chris Simmons: 43:37 You can email me. It's c-s-i-m-m-o-n-s. That's email@example.com or you can call me at (317) 275-4037. That's my direct line.
Adam Scholtes: 43:51 Awesome. Chris, thanks so much.
Adam Scholtes: 43:54 Great episode with Chris Simmons today. Wasn't really sure what to expect, when he came on. You know, I was really interested to hear what a student navigator does for Indy Reads. But man, when Chris talked about, "it's not about education, it's all about skillset," I think that really hit home for me. It kinda tied, kind of made me think back to our previous episode on, is college a scam or not? You know, and, and when I asked him, part one where Jennifer Malins talked about 70% of their students are ELL, no, Chris isn't, isn't bilingual. So how does somebody who likes to connect with people, somebody who is a people person, somebody who has these life experiences, how do they connect with somebody who is an ELL student? When he said Google Translate and smiling... It's just that simple, I think. I think sometimes we miss that as a society. I really enjoyed and am excited about what he thought their five year plan was. You know, one building have a one-stop shop for everything that, the students need that are coming through, either, you know, native or non-native English speakers. And if you guys could, whatever podcast player you guys use, please rate and review our episode. If, if there's any comments you have on the episode, we'd love to hear from you, there in the review section. Or even if you have any guest suggestions, we're open to taking those as well! Thanks. Thanks for listening and, we look forward to talking to you guys next time!