Familylinks CEO named 'Champion of Greater Pittsburgh'
When Kaylah Jackson met Frederick Massey Jr. six years ago, she knew she wanted a better life. She just didn't know where to begin.
Jackson, then 18, was transitioning out of foster care. She bounced from home to home, didn't have her birth certificate and hadn't seen a caseworker in years. She was living in Aliquippa, where many of her friends had become parents as teens and were struggling to get by.
“There was too much I felt could hold me back,” said Jackson, now 24.
With guidance from Massey, CEO of Familylinks, a Banksville-based human services agency that provides treatment centers, housing, addiction programs and more, Jackson graduated from college, found a job and improved her circumstances.
“She went from what could have been despair to looking at getting her master's and becoming an entrepreneur,” said Massey, 45, of Monroeville.
The experience inspired Massey to create the Mentoring Initiative Program, geared to help people ages 18 to 21 who are moving out of foster care.
“There are basic things they want to do, they just don't know how,” said Massey, whom the Dignity & Respect Campaign in October named its “Champion of Greater Pittsburgh” for his work at Familylinks.
According to the National Mentoring Partnership, about 550,000 children are in foster care in the United States. Between 18,000 and 20,000 ages 16 and older “age out” of the foster care system each year — the age depends on the state — and must face life on their own.
Jackson said when she was preparing to apply for college, she struggled to provide the necessary information regarding her family.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I know that sounded strange to the financial aid people, but it was reality to me.”
She met Massey through friends, and he offered his guidance.
Today, Jackson is a Johnson C. Smith University graduate with a degree in business. She is living in Charlotte, N.C., and working as a customer service specialist for a distribution company. She has since contacted her biological relatives, and even helped her sister enroll in college.
“The whole generation shifted because of one intervention,” Massey said.
He continues to stay in touch with Jackson.
“When I had issues with family or school, he'd remind me what I'm in it for,” she said.
Tony Drane, Familylinks' chief operating officer, said most foster programs are geared toward younger children, but young adults need “professional mentors to help them move into the work world.”
Familylinks helps nearly 8,000 people annually. The new initiative will target those enrolled in programs providing emergency shelter, life skills and employment readiness. It received a $325,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments and will officially start in January. Massey said.
Familylinks staff will serve as the first group of mentors. A coordinator will recruit volunteers who will sign one-year commitments and maintain weekly contact with their mentees.
The agency worked with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania to develop the program. Colleen Fedor, the partnership's executive director, acknowledges that working with people who “have had it hard” can be difficult, but said Massey is capable of meeting those challenges.
“I see him as a champion for people who need another champion,” she said.
“He makes sure kids and adults who need a helping hand get that,” Drane said. “He has a very big heart. He has the skills on the administration side that help our organization thrive, but he also has a soul.”
Massey knows the importance of a positive influence because he had one. He grew up in Braddock, where his father worked two jobs: a salesman by day and a convenience store clerk by night, where he was once held at gunpoint and pistol-whipped.
The family moved to Monroeville, and Massey attended Gateway High School. His mother, Dolores, was not one to let him spend his summers slacking.
“She did not believe in just sitting around,” Massey said with a smile. Dolores Massey died Nov. 11.
Massey's summers consisted of classes at vocational school, including a bookkeeping class that sparked his interest in accounting. He went on to get a degree from Duquesne University and become a certified public accountant.
Massey became Familylinks' CEO five years ago. He also serves as the supervisory chair for the Hill District Federal Credit Union, assists with Point Park University's Building Our Leaders Daily mentoring program, and is a minister at The Life Church.
He met his wife Mary through her son, whom Massey mentored.
Nonprofit work appeals to Massey because, “bottom line, the product helps people,” he said.
“We have to recognize in this country, we have a responsibility to those who fall through the cracks.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.