Stacey Cohan has the distinction of being the first and longest serving POPS the Club volunteer; she began at Venice High and currently works with the students at El Camino Charter High POPS. Stacey describes what initially drew her to the club as either “kismet” or a “fluke.” She heard a piece about POPS the Club on the radio, and was immediately enthralled. At the time, she had been working with youth at Our House, a grief support center. But providing services for children confronting trauma wasn’t always her career path. For years, she worked as the Chief Operating Officer in Tarzana Hospital (then called Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center). While she was changing course in her life, she was confronted with two influential deaths which helped to shape the work she would later take on. Watching her mother-in-law spend her final days in hospice care and her sister-in-law slowly succumb to ALS, Stacey became especially sensitive to the painful void that comes in the wake of a loss. The people left behind need a way to express themselves, to find opportunities for sharing their burden so they do not feel so alone. To Stacey, the painful separation experienced by the kids she worked with at Our House does not seem so different from the work she is doing with kids separated from incarcerated loved ones. Grief and isolation take many forms; trauma is trauma.
Visiting POPS the Club for the first time, Stacey observed the instant bonds formed among the students. She came to understand that those who sheepishly meandered in to the meeting had, for years, shared playgrounds and classrooms with each other but had never broached a conversation about incarceration; they kept their secrets to themselves, but at POPS, in a place where they no longer had to hold those secrets, their connection was profound, their camaraderie immediate.
In the time Stacey has spent in POPS the Club meetings, she has watched students who appeared to be spiraling, entangled inside negative mindsets and behavior, turn in an entirely different direction once they were engaged; she has celebrated and supported the emergence of talented artists and confidant leaders. Empowered by discovering their own voices, POPS the Club students also do their best to raise each other up.
Stacey doesn’t see programs like POPS the Club as useful only to the youth affected but also to the well-being of the community as a whole: “The collateral damage of mass incarceration is so massive. If our society doesn’t acknowledge that, it’s a volcano about to explode.” Stacey says there are so few places where young people are allowed to express their anger, their confusion, their despair and is glad to be part of an environment in which these young people learn the “skills to cope.” To Stacey, there is never a wasted moment while volunteering with POPS the Club. “When you see the stories being told…it’s priceless,” she says. “It’s the most rewarding thing in the world.”