by M. Yesenia Summers
(Plain Press, July 2017) “We help everyone” these words resonate after visiting Sue Marasco, the Director of Education at the May Dugan Center. Marasco and her colleagues honor the legacy of the late May Dugan, who tirelessly helped individuals in need and showed compassion for everyone in her community.
The May Dugan Center offers many services to individuals living in Cleveland’s west side. Counseling services are available to clients. The center is a certified mental health facility and counselors are licensed by the State of Ohio. Comprehensive Support Services are also available at the center; assistance with food, clothing, employment and other emergency services.
The Moms First Adolescent program, which collaborates with the Cleveland Municipal School District gives assistance to teen moms. Adolescents moms are given support through home visits and Peer Advisory sessions. Peer Advisory sessions are available to all students, even males discuss relevant topics such as family planning and self-esteem.
A Basic Needs program distributes clothes, food and fresh produce on the 4th Wednesday of every month. The program’s generosity is made available by the support of the Cleveland Foodbank, local churches and individual donations. Health and Wellness services are new to the center and are available during the food and clothing programs. Individuals can receive screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, Type II diabetes. Educational health seminars are also available.
May Dugan Center also offers an Education Resource Center. It offers GED (General Education Diploma), TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), Adult and Financial Literacy Programs, vocational entrance support and Homework support. May Dugan Center offers a unique and effective approach on education. I had the pleasure of speaking with Sue Marasco.
- “Why did you become involved with the May Dugan Center?”
- “This is a long story that I’m going to make really short. My husband moved to Cleveland and at the time, I said I wanted to take a year off to get my daughter settled in school. We needed to get acclimated and I started volunteering with Lakewood ABLE (Adult Basic Literacy Education). I helped individuals get ready for their GED’s. At the time it was in Lakewood, in the bottom of an elementary school, and these adults were going into the basement of an elementary school to work on their schooling. It was a little bit intimidating for them. So, when my boss, Terry Hammovich, said she would like to start a new classroom here at the May Dugan Center, and would I run it? I said maybe, but I walked into the May Dugan Center, and it was an adult facility, serving adults. Instantly, I felt people were treated with more dignity and respect. It was an easy fit for me. May Dugan also offers wrap around service that all our students needed — social work, counseling, food and clothing programs. We have Moms First, which helps pregnant and parenting teens. All this stuff that helps to take care of all the aspects of an adult’s life, so it was easy”.
Q: “What are the qualifications to become a client at the May Dugan Center?”
A: “We help everybody, we turn no one away”.
Q: “You oversee the Education Resource Center, could you tell me more about That Reading Thing?”
A: “Oh yes! We accept all levels. So, when I came on board, I recognized that first year that we had many people coming to us who couldn’t read. We really didn’t have under the current curriculum a way to manage that so, I wrote a grant to bring on literacy instruction. We did that and this is what happened: I had three programs: a basic literacy program, the GED test prep program and the transition to college job program. My adult readers were embarrassed to be in an adult reading class, they were always peeking around the corner at the GED class. The GED students were also peeking around the corner looking at job training. So, I just said forget this, the second year we’re all just learning together. So, during the orientation, I say to them, we are learners, we are learning together and we are all going to do this together. So, the point was that we were all going to treat each other supportively. Our adult curriculum was good, it’s out of Canada.
Pat Campbell does a great job with Diagnostic Adult Literacy Assessment (DALA). It’s a very community based literacy program. The problem was that it didn’t reach a critical demographic, which was young men. The young men did not want to be involved in community activities. They did not want to feel taken care of. They wanted to come in, get their work done and go. So, the lead teacher, Brenda Williams, found an advertisement for training in that That Reading Thing. She, and Robert Bivins, my other fabulous teacher, who worked in the jails for years and years, both got trained.
The beautiful part of That Reading Thing is it’s very directive, it’s very quick. It has 30 very discrete lessons so students see themselves moving faster. It’s also multi-modal, it’s about sight, the reading, the writing and the hearing. It engages all the senses, and you see people really moving faster with it, which is what we’ve been after”.
- “Are families involved in the client’s education process and how?”
A: “We do believe in community support and, so often we welcome other family members. Nobody is excluded from a classroom, particularly our evening classes. We have a gentleman who brings his nieces. We’ve had husbands and wives, fathers and daughters and fathers and sons. We really encourage that because you’re doing two things 1) you get a parent involved, you’re teaching them to be supportive. You’re teaching them to go easy on themselves. You’re teaching them that mistakes happen. You are affecting a family, because if everybody sits down after dinner and does their homework, you can emulate that supportive environment, everybody benefits. 2) Also, it’s about removing this stupid stigma about adult education, adult literacy. We are learners, we are all on this journey and the more people that can be involved, all the better”.
Q:” How did you become familiar with the Pedagogy of the Oppressed?”
A: “I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Phd. I was at the center for teaching with Allison Fegree for a year. Part our training is different approaches to education, and so Paulo Freire just really touched me. We don’t want to be teacher at a lectern, shaking our fingers at students. We want to sit a table with them and say this is us together, and if you understand the power that you’re providing yourself through education, you can pass that power onto your kids and your community. It’s about equality”.
Q: “Can you tell me about the financial literacy program?”
A: “Financial literacy happens in two ways. First, we incorporate practical math in all aspects of the program, including a big box of fake money for counting change. So, the real practical stuff. Then, over time, this is going to be controversial, we have learned that it’s not practical or reasonable for many of our students to have bank accounts. The simple fact of the matter is, when I came, first started this job I was like everyone needs a bank account. The fact is, the way the fees are structured, it’s often much more expensive for them to have a checking account then go to check cashing places.
We’ve sort of have developed a process of looking at getting the student to look at options, and say, what are your bills like? How are they structured? Very few of our students get paychecks anymore, a lot of them go directly into something, and they get paid out from there. We really had to adjust to being a lot more open minded about what banking looks like for people in 2017. It’s a lot more about cost comparison, we try to lower how many fees they’re paying as much as possible, and talk to them about different aspects of it. The practical math and reality based thinking”.
Q: “Can you please tell me about Trauma Informed Care and how it applies to education and resource programs?”
A: “Yes, the other weird thing that happened to me, never had done it before; the first two students’ folders I opened up, were from a gentleman from Eritrea and a gentleman from Somalia. Both had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnoses. So even before I knew what I was doing, I thought, you have to create an environment that supports documented disabilities. So, my husband worked at the VA. I was on the phone with the VA, saying what do I need to do? So, from the very, very beginning I was learning things like don’t have rows and rows of desks, have options for seating. Make sure there’s plenty of room for people to move around, make sure you’re never blocking the door, the side of the door, so people can see, they can get out. Try to have as many doors as possible and let them know they’re open, so they can come and go as they please. Just some real practical approaches so people don’t feel trapped.
Then, within a year of that, and sort of the time we began the practical literacy program, people were calling us to say; we’ve heard you have a really good environment for people who need a good environment. So, the more people we got who needed a trauma formed environment, the more serious I got about it. I got involved with Moms Project which was at Metro, Jennifer Balet ran our particular program through Metro, it was for women who were pregnant, and new mothers working who were working through addiction problems. Because of our involvement there, that brought us the attention of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Tracy Plock. That provided me training to become Trauma Informed and able to train other agencies in Trauma Informed Care. So, that’s the history of it, I continue to work on it.
Here’s what it is, for the education department, a calm mind and a settled body will learn and retain information more. When you are taking a standardized test, like a GED, you need to be able to retain information. You also need to need to be calm enough to problem solve. A person who has been through trauma tends to live in flight, fight, freeze, submit, response all the time. So, they’re always reacting not processing. They’re not processing. You have to be able to process, to take these tests. First, you have to be able to think. Ok, first on my algebra problem, I take care of what’s in the parentheses first. Next, I do this, next I do that. You have to be able to think and act sequentially. So, in the classroom, the idea of the Trauma Informed process is to just get people calm enough to retain it”.
Q: “Can you tell me about VOCA?”
A: “Yes, VOCA is short for Victims of Crime Act. VOCA is through the Ohio attorney general’s office. We are privileged and very grateful that we have Mike DeWine in Ohio, because he was a prosecutor in the counties where basically victims’ advocacy started. The money comes to us to support victims of crime, who have needs and costs associated with it, that we really can’t get filled in other ways. So, they not only allow for compensation, for example, your house is broken into and your locks need to be replaced; VOCA takes care of that.
Compensation is a part of it, the other part is the services we can offer. We provide counseling, trauma based counseling. It’s focused modules of care to help somebody who been through a terrible circumstance; to have their feelings validated, learning calming techniques, kind of narrate their way through it. It’s taking people through those modules so, they too can learn those calming techniques after a horrible experience.
We have three people at May Dugan who do that; Jennifer, next to me, who does all of the intakes. All our intakes get a trauma screen, a victimization screen, and then, they get oriented to all of our programming.
The great thing about what Jennifer does, is that she provides education for everyone who comes in. This is what victimization is, this is how we can help. It’s made a huge difference, educating people generally on it.
Peter is our case manager for VOCA clients. A great many of them are homeless. A great many of them are homeless with mental health issues, which is a particular concern of the attorney general’s office. Peter also helps people in the full spectrum of victimization.
Marissa Patsey, is new to us, she works with the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) population, which is also a population of interest.
I am the trauma recovery services director. We work with MetroHealth Medical Center, we’ve been doing this since February. This was a special grant that we got to work with Metro, on our people on the west side who have been victims of crime.
What’s been so interesting is that we are working with trauma recovery services at Metro, we are finding it’s our same people, our same circumstances, our same neighborhood. The people least likely to follow up on their appointments at Metro, aren’t the ones from Euclid or Geauga County who come in life flight, it’s people within 9 miles of Metro, which is our people. So, what we’re able to do for those individuals, we’re able to bring them back for their follow up services. We’re able to check in on them.
Chris, our fantastic therapist who has been doing this for 22 years, does a lot of that trauma based services for them. We are able to get them food, clothing and all the stuff May Dugan offers. It’s a better continuity of care, following up with Second Police District, and making sure people who’ve been through this experience, where the police are involved, have that support. We also, now work with the Family Justice Center downtown, providing people easy access to temporary protective orders, temporary custody orders and the pieces and parts supporting somebody who has been through a terrible circumstance”.
Q: “You also work in collaboration with NAMI?’
A: “I am honored, this year they honored me as the Mental Health Professional of the Year; which is awesome! They’re so amazing! Once again, like Paulo Freire and a lot of the stuff we do here, with That Reading Thing, it’s community based; community helping community, there’s nothing better. Metro is also community helping community too. I couldn’t be prouder”.
Q: “What obstacles does the center face?”
A: “There’s always the ongoing political climate, it affects our ability to serve. It’s tricky because the people need us and it’s a full-time job taking care of our people. We have a fantastic development department that’s sort of responsible to get the pieces in together, so we can continue to get the funding we need to support the programs. So, that a big part of it. I think another thing that all social service agencies struggle with is just making sure that we’re making connections for people. None of us can do everything but making sure we get people where they need to go and keep that community handoff is always a challenge”.
Q: “Would you like to tell the public something about May Dugan Center?”
A: “My message is that there’s no one answer to solving our social problems in Cleveland. I think that each one of us can give either time, talent or treasure to support organizations that you believe in. Understand that it’s all of us, all of us bear the cost when something goes wrong and all of us reap the benefits when things go well”.
Q: If the public wanted to become involved with the May Dugan Center, how can they do it?
A: “Get a hold of us. We really believe in making the use of those talents. I am so grateful and adore our volunteers. Each brings a unique gift, story and a unique way of interacting with people. The more community we have, the better off we are.”
Editor’s Note: If you would like to become involved at the May Dugan Center, call 216-631-5800. You can also visit, the center is located at 4115 Bridge Ave, Cleveland, Ohio 44113.