“Here, I always have something to smile about”

Jazayiah (left) started as an after-school participant at Atlantic Terminal and then became a group leader; she visited program director Jackie Robinson while home from college in December 2023.

By Melissa Aase, CEO of University Settlement


Jackie Robinson has led our Cornerstone @ Atlantic Terminal for a decade, partnering with more than 500 neighbors every year

Consistency is key to building trusted, effective relationships with young people

Neighbors like Jazayiah who have grown up with Jackie and her program are now in college, pursuing careers working with young people

In each of our programs, forging relationships is our foundational work, empowering growth not just for individuals but for whole communities.

Relationships built on respect, consistency, and trust are particularly vital in our work with young people. As they go about the hard work of growing into themselves, our young neighbors need safe environments where they can try things out and supportive adults who can listen and provide guidance along the way.

Jackie Robinson has led our Cornerstone Community Center at Atlantic Terminal (which we lovingly refer to as “ATL”) for the last ten years. Her deep and continuous commitment has now helped build community strength there for multiple generations.

I recently spoke with Jazayiah, who grew up participating in the after-school program at ATL before joining its staff as group leader in her teens. Back home on break from college, she shared some more insights into her powerful relationship with Jackie and the program she leads:

“I started coming here when I was 7, and now I’m 19. We lived upstairs. My mom was nervous to let me enroll in an after-school program at first. I’m here because of Jackie. She took the time to talk to my mom for hours and made her feel comfortable. Jackie also has a daughter, so she understands. Over the years, Jackie and my mom have become close. Jackie watched me grow up and taught me a lot, and I’ve been involved all these years. My mom still lives upstairs.

I have a lot of memories here. Some of my favorite times were rapping, singing, and dancing with my friends in the back room. I used to have a group leader who wanted to be a teacher. I really looked up to her, so it became my dream to become a teacher too, at the time. Now she’s working as a teacher. She pursued her dreams. We aren’t too far apart in age so I knew that if she could do it, I could do it, too. I still speak to her to this day. She motivated me to finish high school and go to college.

People here always told me: ‘I want you to become something in life.’ I still speak with most of the leaders I had here. They inspired me to want more than just a job, to want a career. Now, I try to pass that down to people who are younger than me. I feel like I’m a role model.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to be part of the team here – I started volunteering here when I was in high school. I like to dance and at one point I ran my own dance group. I wanted to give back to the kids, because I used to be in and out of the center every day. I was working many jobs, but when I became old enough to work here, I quit them and finally started working at ATL.

I’ve always envisioned myself working with kids. Whether it’s in an office, a hospital, or a center like this one. I want to work with kids because a lot of them are just out here with no adult in their life who has stuck by their side.

When I started working here, Jackie taught me how to communicate, how to respect others. She also taught me to not sugarcoat anything in life, but always find the fun in everything.

I’m going to apply to work here again this summer while I’m on break from college, just like I worked here last summer. When I’m here, I always have something to smile about.”

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