Persia Mohseni smiles when she sees the stuffed shopping bags just down the hall from her office.
On Fridays when most workers eagerly anticipate the weekend, Mohseni is awaiting her favorite day of the week — not to celebrate the end of another work week — but for stuffing the bags. She thinks about the children and their smiling faces, the ones who she hopes to reach as she is placing candy, mini footballs and brochures into those bags.
The PeerPower program of Prevention Works is all about fun and awareness. Groups of kids are mentored by peer educators who are high school students in the area who want to help for a good cause. Some, who have had troubled past themselves, help educate younger children about the dangers and temptations they may face when they are older.
At first sight Mohseni’s office resembles the usual office: a computer, desk, file cabinets and stacks of folders and paper. But most offices probably don’t have “Biggy the Cigarette,” a model version of a cigarette that opens in half revealing some of the dangerous contents of cigarettes. In a fun way that children can understand, the toy car inside represents the harmful carbon monoxide found in cigarettes.
There are no formal plaques or awards hanging on the walls of Mohseni’s office noting her accomplishments. Instead, a picture of Spiderman torn from a coloring book hangs in a combination of blue and green colors. The picture of Spiderman appears along with photos of kids enjoying events that she helped planned. A stack of thank you notes lay on the corner of her desk in near illegible handwriting. Mohseni said these are more important to her than awards.
Centered above Mohseni’s desk hangs a dry erase board filled with goals and thoughts that she hopes to achieve.
She said she never thinks about herself, but always about the staff she trains and the children who she helps.
“I want to help and motivate youth in the community,” she said.
This once would-be teacher, who graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in health education, said she has no interest in returning to a teaching position, which left her unemployed after graduation.
She said she nearly gave up her goals of working in a community when she landed a job at AT&T Inc. working in a call center after her teaching career didn’t work out.
Now, she said she focuses her attention on the future of PeerPower.
PeerPower helps children ages 9 to 13 by raising awareness of violence prevention and substance abuse prevention. The program also fosters diversity awareness.
Money is always an issue, Mohseni said, as the organization is non-profit and funded mostly by grants. Donations also come from a once a year fundraising event called, Casino Night.
One of Mohseni’s biggest priorities is to take the staff that helps her so much to a convention training session to better prepare them for the situations they may face.
Although Mohseni said she was never involved in drugs and alcohol herself, she said she did grow up with a violent step-dad and with a best friend whose mom is an alcoholic.
Being multicultural, of Iranian descent, Mohseni said she has never seen race as a limitation, but as a cause for conversation.
Mohseni said she is fine not receiving a lot of personal recognition, but she hopes that more people will become aware of what a great program PeerPower is.
Although she has been in this position for only almost a year, she said she is already thinking about the future of PeerPower and how to make the program more effective. She said researching new grants is a top priority, and she said she would like to get more adults and college-aged students involved.
“I don’t know if we are doing enough,” she said. “But that’s what I have to figure out.”