Zion's Story

Last year, violence took the life of Rodney Lewis’ godson. A few months later, the family was involved in a car accident and they had to ride to the hospital in an ambulance.

That’s a lot for anyone to handle, but for Rodney’s autistic son Zion, it has been particularly burdensome. Fortunately, Zion has a secret weapon to help him with difficult emotions.

“Sometimes he’s sad, and asks for his red beads to give him strength,” said Rodney.

It’s because these wooden red beads represent something bigger. Zion’s entire third grade class
participates in ALIVE (Animating Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience.) The red beads are given out to students who share their feelings with the class.

This is just one of the programs United Way has brought to eight New Haven schools to address

“What are some of your worries?” asked ALIVE director, Cat Davis.

An instructor meets once a week with the students to encourage them to share about chronic and toxic stressors.

Stories about community violence, poverty, racism, and everyday issues that may interfere with academic success are acknowledged and talked through in a judgement-free discussion.

United Way believes all parents should learn how to nurture healthy relationships with their children. And for Rodney, it has helped him better understand his son’s emotions and challenges.

“I know what he’s going through,” said Rodney.

Zion was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old, and he has been participating in ALIVE since he was in Kindergarten. Because of it, Rodney says that Zion is acting out less frequently.

At the end of the school year, parents are invited to join the discussion. Rodney says opening up about emotions has also helped him more than he could have imagined.

“It has taught me how to be patient,” said Rodney.

“Sometimes he’s sad, and asks for his red beads to give him strength."