There are words on Aaron Nell’s resume that don’t just sum up his work experience; they describe his character. Inclusion, patience, social justice and peace form a framework for what makes Nell shine in his job as a site coordinator at Communities In Schools of Richmond, Ind.
Before joining the staff at Communities In Schools of Richmond, Nell spent four years working at Richmond’s Conflict Resolution Center and another four with a local chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs. He ran a program at Boys & Girls for youth who had been suspended or expelled from middle and high school. Nell’s work included counseling and teaching conflict resolution and non-violent communications skills. It was also how he learned about Communities In Schools.
“The nonprofits here in town all talk to each other because we are dealing with the same students and families,” said Nell, noting the collaborative effort the school district is making.
In the fall of 2011, Nell received a call from Communities In Schools of Richmond when there was an opening for a site coordinator at Richmond High School. At Richmond, where there are about 1,500 students, 70 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Nell, who along with site coordinators Kris Lopresti and Rick Wedlow form Team Communities In Schools at Richmond High, provide targeted dropout prevention services to 140 students.
A good portion of Nell’s time is spent making sure the school administration is well informed of the role of Communities In Schools and how they are available as a resource for students, families and the greater community. In addition, he focuses on conflict resolution, teaching students skills they can use to avoid altercations, and showing them what mediation looks like.
“If I can help provide a safe space where they can sit down and talk about what’s going on and work it out, I can feel good about that,” said Nell. “Empowering them to make their own decisions gives them the confidence to handle their problems. It’s a chance to see these kids living in their best selves.”
Nell’s willingness to be of service stretches beyond school hours and borders. Once, when he discovered that a student’s family had moved into a house without furniture, he found someone willing to donate a second-hand refrigerator. Unfortunately, the plan started heading for disaster when the site coordinator couldn’t find a delivery truck. Then Nell, who regularly rides his bike to work at the school, was able to borrow a friend’s heavy-duty bicycle trailer. He hitched up the refrigerator and personally delivered it to the family.
“I’ve heard kids use the term ‘good lookin’ out,’ to describe when someone has a person’s back and helps out without being asked,” said Nell. “In some sense that is what site coordinators are charged to do.”