Jul. 17—A desire to break the cycle lead to Dominque Simpkins working to help at-risk youth do the same.
Simpkins, 35, grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Gloverville where she said she saw a lot of violence. Thankfully, she had a support system to prepare her for getting out of that situation and to help her not become a product of her environment.
"... I had this lady named Ms. Pam; I'll never forget her. She was my case worker, and she saw something in me that I did not see in myself," Simpkins said. "So she would have me speaking at these events ... I was volunteering and going everywhere, speaking and taking all of these things in, and it made me want to do better with myself as opposed to just staying in the projects."
What pushed Simpkins to finally get out of the neighborhood in which she grew up was losing her brother to gun violence and seeing many youth lose their lives to violence.
Simpkins, a licensed minister, eventually received a bachelor's degree in health and human services with a minor in criminal justice from the University of Arizona Global Campus and is currently in school to receive her master's degree in psychology from the same school. Once she graduates, she'll become a licensed professional counselor.
Simpkins created the City of Refuge Youth Development Center in 2019.
"(The) mission of City of Refuge is to help retrain the mindset of the youth from street life to HEAT (honest, educated, assured and triumphant) life," she said. "I do that by implementing parent coaching. I'm a certified parent coach through Parent Project. I also (do) behavior modification strategies."
Through City of Refuge, Simpkins works with at-risk youth and parents. She works with the youth on character development and trade skills. The kids can learn different trade skills from different community members, such as financials for a business. They can also learn customer service skills, which she said is character development.
Since starting City of Refuge, Simpkins said the reception has been OK, but there are some stigmas about needing help that she's fighting against.
"... People who are in a crisis, who really need help, who are willing and open to help, the reception has been good," she said. "But the people who are afraid to get help, afraid of being judged, or not open to want to let someone help them, they don't agree with my services."
When Simpkins found out she was selected as a member of the 2022 class of the Aiken Standard's Young Professionals 2 Follow, she said she was thankful for the recognition.
"I was screaming because for the simple fact, I'm so hard on myself. Not even for an award; I'm hard on myself to be impactful, making sure that what I'm doing is impactful to the community and making sure I'm living a life so that when others see me they see light inside of me and want to become what I am," she said. "... I want to be so impactful that I want to see lives changed ..."
In 2020, Simpkins received the Cher's Sisters Only Club Award for her work in arbitration. She is a juvenile arbitrator for Aiken County.
She said for a first offense, a juvenile can go through arbitration so they don't get a criminal record. These acts vary depending on the offense, but can include the youth participating in community service, getting in a drug program, or some other type of community involvement. She also works with child advocacy where she does parent coaching for child advocates.
With her work and life, Simpkins has a slogan she lives by.
"I always say, 'Together, we are powerful.' That is my slogan. Together, we are powerful. When I say together, I mean parents, community, teachers — I mean all of that," she said.