How Nicole Russell’s Self-Soothing Methods Are Changing The Lives Of Foster Children Everywhere
According to The U.S. Children's Bureau Department, there are more than 430,000 foster children living in the U.S. today. With statistics this high, it's no wonder that the lack of resources has caused the conditions of many of these homes to remain poor. Children living in these conditions are faced with a number of adversities, from lack of clothing or the confusing constant change of environment; not to mention many of them must face such hardships alone. As anyone can imagine, the foster care system can be a lonely place full of children thrusted in and out of unfamiliar environments expecting them to cope accordingly, with little to no guidance on how.
Luckily, self-proclaimed youth advocate and master of self-comfort Nicole Russell is putting an end to the agony, making the foster care experience an easier one to process.
Surprisingly enough, Nicole knew little to nothing about the foster care system in her earlier years, but an unexpected addition to her family changed her life and career as she knew it. Once her mother decided to take in her younger sister, Miracle, this one experience opened her eyes to the day-to-day transitions of foster children, self-soothing methods, and ultimately changed her entire career trajectory.
"My mother and I wanted to start collecting comfort items for bedtime and donate them, and I was looking online to find an organization that we can give to, and I couldn't find one that focused solely on bedtime, so I figured out how to start my own non-profit and in 2012, I birthed Precious Dreams," Nicole expressed.
After six years of volunteering with Precious Dreams Foundation while simultaneously acting as the full-time VIP services manager of Madison Square Garden, Nicole decided to quit her job and follow her passion in helping the youth. At the Precious Dreams Foundation, the staff aims to instill self-care and self-soothing methods in efforts to provide lifelong teaching tools for the children.
"We teach them meditation, stretches for yoga, we have guest speakers that come and share their stories, we do therapeutic writing but overall just the process of learning how to self-sooth and self-comfort. If you can teach people, specifically children, ways to self-comfort that's something they can use for the rest of their lives," Nicole explained.
But Nicole's mission to help the youth own their lives and their narratives doesn't end there. In September 2018, she debuted her self-help book entitled Everything a Band-Aid Can't Fix, which went straight to #1 of Amazon new releases, in hopes to help young adults navigate through the confusing adolescent years.
We caught up with Nicole to discuss all things self-comfort, starting a non-profit, and plans for the future of the Precious Dreams Foundation, here's what she had to say.
You left a high profile position at Madison Square Garden to start a non-profit dedicated to transitioning foster children and supporting homeless youth, tell me what that experience was like for you?
I felt full of uncertainty. I was taking the biggest financial risk of my career but the decision made more sense than the math. While MSG was fun, what I was doing with Precious Dreams was fulfilling and, with every event and conversation, I started feeling closer to God. It became clear that my calling was in community service. I've never been one to see a problem and leave it for somebody else to solve. So I put all of my time and energy into helping as many children as I could and eventually the work was seen and that helped us grow.
Courtesy of Nicole Russell
"With every event and conversation, I started feeling closer to God. It became clear that my calling was in community service."
What is one thing working in the foster care system has taught you? What is one thing you were surprised to learn?
It's opened my eyes to how difficult it is to do life alone. I don't think we have enough conversations about the challenges of foster care but former foster youth are all around us and the ones who are doing well are super-beings. They deserve more credit. The ability to overcome countless forms of adversity, discover self-love, and hold tight to your dreams is incredibly impressive.
7 out of 10 girls who age out of foster care will become pregnant before the age of 21. It's hard for me to see those numbers and not support our girls. I know that many times they're looking for love in the wrong places, misguided or taken advantage of, and they deserve better. I made it my mission to teach foster and homeless youth how to self-comfort because receiving the tools at a young age makes life easier. The ability to step back and analyze how we're reacting to our pain can really save us. It saved me.
Courtesy of Nicole Russell
You consider yourself a “master of self-comfort,” how does one become a master of self-comfort in their own lives?
Fortunately and unfortunately, I was forced to see myself at a very young age. I grew up in a single-parent home with a father who suffered from depression. If there wasn't music playing in the background, then my house was usually quiet. There were no conversations about our days or sit downs for dinner. My time at home was time alone.
I remember having a full length mirror in my room and I used to stand or sit in front of it for hours. I wasn't admiring my physical features, I was trying to find myself and see inside. I didn't appreciate it then but the silence in my home inspired mindfulness and so my curiosity was centered around who I am and not what I should be doing. Silence didn't allow distractions from my automatic thoughts so growing up I had an incredible opportunity to learn about my needs, wants, and dislikes very early.
Practicing mindfulness assists with clarity of thought and decision-making. Self-comfort looks different for everyone but the first step is hearing out your needs and honoring the ones that lead to healthy outcomes. That's how I master self-comfort.
Courtesy of Nicole Russell
"Self-comfort looks different for everyone but the first step is hearing out your needs and honoring the ones that lead to healthy outcomes. That's how I master self-comfort."
What are the easiest self-soothing methods we can all practice in our everyday lives?
Breathing is the one of the easiest things we can do to relieve tension and reduce anxiety levels. Sometimes when we're stressed, overwhelmed, or simply in a hurry, we unconsciously practice shallow breathing. Becoming mindful of the breath and breathing correctly has countless health benefits and it feels great too. Whether sitting or standing, start wherever you are and take a slow inhale (allowing the abdominal to intrude) and deep exhale. Focus on the breath every day for as long as you can. This supports a healthy flow of oxygen to the brain and body.
My other piece of advice is to turn on the kettle. If I'm feeling stressed or anxious, I drink tea or warm water. Not only does it calm the mind, it also does wonders for the skin. Tea has even been linked to a lower risk of depression. Studies have shown that for every three cups of tea consumed per day, risk of depression were decreased by 37 percent. Consume liquids that are good for you and then do it in good fashion. I'm also that girl who uses mugs with motivational quotes. Find the mug that speaks to your needs, makes you laugh, or helps you stay focused on your goals, and keep it with you throughout the day.
Courtesy of Nicole Russell
What made you want to write ‘Everything a Band-Aid Can’t Fix?’
The motivation came from remembering how tough it is for teens to openly express their emotions or work through issues independently. I had a great relationship with my mother but I still didn't tell her everything. There was advice I needed as a child but was too embarrassed or afraid to ask for help. Everything a Band-Aid Can't Fix is a go-to guide and intimate conversation with myself and the reader. The book is part-interactive, so there are questions to help teens process each chapter and understand how the topics relate to their lives.
The book provides coping strategies, mental health education, and stories from people who have also faced adversity in their childhood. I wanted young adults to see that celebrities like Asap Ferg and Brandy are just like them. We all had insecurities, dealt with bullying, peer pressure, and pain. However, it's how we reacted to and treated the pain that determined our outcome.
Courtesy of Nicole Russell
Being that you previously worked in hospitality before transitioning to the non-profit industry, what advice would you have for anyone looking to make a major career change?
Make your own rules! If you have to do both careers in order to take care of your family or put food on the table then do it. If you need to sacrifice your social life to go back to school, do it! Just be intentional with your time, thoughts, and energy. If you work hard and have a plan, the transition will happen. I sacrificed a lot but I was okay with that regardless of people's opinions on what's best for me. Nobody knows where you belong, but something inside you will guide you there if you let it.
Courtesy of Nicole Russell
"Make your own rules! Nobody knows where you belong, but something inside you will guide you there if you let it."
What are your plans for the future of Precious Dreams Foundation?
Expansion and strategic partnerships. We're currently developing new chapters in Chicago and then looking to expand to San Francisco. While we're looking to grow, we also recognize that more outreach requires more funding. I took a long look at the global mattress market that's valued at 27 billion dollars and realized that I'm failing our youth if we don't tap into that space. While these companies are selling a comfortable night's sleep to those who can afford it, Precious Dreams Foundation is helping those who can't. We all agree that everyone deserves comfort but the difference is we provide our services for free to children who sleep in the most uncomfortable situations. So right now, we're focused on trying to secure corporate support. Our youth deserves the best comfort items, best services, and best programs, and I'm not going to stop until we give it to them.
To learn more about The Precious Dream Foundation, be sure to visit their website PreciousDreamsFoundation.org. To keep up with Nicole and her mission to change the lives of foster youth, follow her @NicoleRussell.
Featured image courtesy of Nicole Russell.
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Ashley McDonough is a writer and producer in New York City. When she's not busy writing or producing culturally conscious content, she is patiently waiting for Oprah and Stedman to adopt her. Keep up with her journey via social @Ashley_Milani or check out her work on www.AshleyMcDonough.org.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic’, though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let’s do first things first — let’s define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of “What does platonic mean?”, the first thing that you’re (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of “of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex” (Merriam-Webster), “designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity” (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, “purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes” (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I’ll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word “platonic” actually come from? From what I’ve researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled “Symposium.” In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire; one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: “Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry.” A write-up on Merriam-Webster’s site stated that, “The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships.” Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that’s another article for another time, though (check out “We Should Really Rethink The Term 'Casual Sex'”).
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word “platonic” is kind of used in “broad strokes” these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be “just friends,” I’m going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I’m pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally, even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I’ll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He’s super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often and some have told us that they assume that we’ve had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: “I told him, ‘He’s my brother. We would never mess around.'”
My Friend: “Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it.”
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: “Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives.” (That reminds me: check out, “Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?” when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: “Girl, yeah. If I didn’t want to keep you in my life long-term, I would’ve tried to holla a long time ago!” And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these “for real?!” exchanges is, even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “dormant seed” lying around somewhere…whether it’s one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life, we’ve had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren’t exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you’re not sure about “his”…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you’ve got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you’ve never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he’s someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it’s one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who’s been together for more than five years and I’ll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out “Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?”).
Yeah, just because you’ve filed someone in the “I see him as a good guy” category, that doesn’t automatically mean that y’all’s friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don’t get it twisted — I’ve considered him because, on so many levels, we “fit.” So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are “good friends” yet it’s not exactly platonic.
I’m not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would’ve been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn’t make you want to throw up in your mouth, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there’s a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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Featured image by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images