ONYX Program Manager Yury Bowlds and her husband, a member of the military who has just returned from a tour in Syria, will be relocating to Virginia in early September. Yury will certainly be missed by the children, family, and NOC staff.
Neighborhood Outreach Connection has had a presence at ONYX (Simmons Cay) Apartments in Bluffton since 2014, providing after-school and summer education programs, workforce development, and health screenings to low-income residents. Following a temporary closure in 2019, Yury Cruz Bowlds stepped in as program manager. In her words, she had to, “practically start from scratch,” to rebuild and reopen the center. To meet this challenge, Yury’s main goal was to hire and train an effective team that would connect with the families they were serving – a goal that she successfully met.
Looking back on her time as program manager, Yury believes her greatest achievement was the relationships she formed with her team, with the school district, and with the families. These relationships allowed her to overcome a variety of obstacles. For example, one of her greatest challenges was determining how best to serve a student named Pedro who dealt with autism and language problems. She says, “dealing with a student with special needs requires a lot of education and training that I didn’t have.” However, Yury’s commitment to Pedro and her strong collaborative skills allowed her to specialize the ways in which she and her team communicated with him. When speaking to Yury about Pedro, the passion she has for NOC’s mission shines through. She says, “he is one of those cases that I truly feel like we did something for this boy.” Pedro’s success is not an unusual outcome for students who attend NOC programs.
Another ONYX success story that Yury described relates to a student named Maria. When Maria first came to the program, she could not speak any English and was struggling in school. Now, Maria is fully bilingual, a high school graduate, and will be attending USCB on scholarship in the fall. She volunteers at NOC Onyx in what is nothing short of a full circle moment. When asked what advice she would give to the next program manager at ONYX, Yury emphasized the importance of connection with the families, especially the mothers. Yury’s connection with the mothers drove her to always go above and beyond in her role. Most of the families served by the ONYX center are living in poverty. Due to this, when they are faced with emergency health situations, they have little to fall back on. Yury remembers a time when a mother had an appendectomy, but was unable to find a ride home from the hospital. Without enough money to call a cab, she was faced with few options. Because the families at ONYX trusted Yury, they reached out to her to find the mother a ride. It is in situations like this that the effectiveness of Yury’s approach as program manager shines through.
Going forward, NOC Onyx must continue to emphasize the importance of communication with the families it serves. This emphasis on communication will allow the center to continue improving the academic progress of the students. Yury reiterates that, ‘it is so important that we continue to focus on students’ weaknesses and reinforce those areas of learning.” Weaknesses cannot be targeted without a focus on communication and connection.