PEP’s Values: Joy. Integrity. Aspiration. Courage. Heart.

PEP’s Values: Joy. Integrity. Aspiration. Courage. Heart.

By Habeebah R. Grimes, CEO, Positive Education Program

Joy. Integrity. Aspiration. Courage. Heart.

These are PEP’s values. They were carefully curated and thoughtfully defined during the recent strategic planning process by PEP’s strategic planning team, a cross-section of PEP staff and members of the board of directors. Arriving at these values was not an easy or straightforward process. After all, each of us has our own reasons and core drivers for doing the work we do. It is difficult to come to one, cohesive set of values that honors the diversity of experiences and perspectives we all bring to PEP. Because of this – and because we wanted to be sure to get at the root of who we really are as an organization – there was a lot of wrestling with the language.

I want to thank the strategic planning team for taking on this challenge and for their insightful, generous work in identifying the language that gets at our core. You informed the process with vulnerability and honesty, and it helped us arrive at a set of values that really expresses the fullness of who we are as a PEP community and who we intend to be in the world. The values you identified also align seamlessly with our existing frameworks and philosophy and because of that, feel like an artful, sincere description of who we are.

As we continue to evolve the next steps of our strategic plan, I think it is important to give some context to our values. They are more than just a list of pithy words. They tell a story of who we are, where we come from, and how we plan to be in the world.


Of all the values, “joy” seems like the “no-brainer” for PEP. With our embrace of the Re-ED principle, “A child should know some joy in each day,” “joy” is a part of our daily lexicon. This notion is certainly one of the reasons “joy” was chosen as a PEP value, but there is more to it than that. We recognize that PEP has a culture that also invites adults to know joy. For anyone that works at PEP, you know there is joy in our shared work and our shared purpose. Though our work is hard, and we can sometimes feel despair when looking at the challenges our children and families face, we work together to find the joy and lift it up. As we hear about the stressful and traumatic experiences our kids face every day, we also lean into the power of the relationship, believing in the healing power of community and finding the sense of pleasure and relational reward that comes from shared purpose.


From the moment we were founded, PEP has been the institution to step up when the community runs out of ideas for how to help a struggling child. Throughout our history, we have made it our work to keep these vulnerable kids safe and honor their humanity. And because of our legacy of doing this, a significant amount of trust has been placed in us from the school districts, parents, caregivers, funders, foundations, and kids themselves. We must be accountable for our impact and uphold the utmost integrity to maintain this trust. We have the responsibility to keep showing up and stepping into the difficult work. Together, this continual stepping up means that we have a wealth of institutional knowledge and a legion of respected and expert staff that garner the trust of the entire community.


Aspiration is our audacity to believe that no matter what, every child is worthy of our attention and energy. We endeavor to equip our kids, and the adults in their lives, with skills and strategies that create pathways to healing and hopeful opportunities. This is not easy. It requires a lot of hope, imagination and creativity, which PEP staff employ every day as they support young people to reach their potential. Aspiration also taps into the notion of the collective because we know it takes all of us believing in the strengths of our kids to stay in the space of day-to-day innovation in service to their success. The wisdom is within us as a collective to figure things out and light the path for the young people we serve.


When we unpack the history of our country, we can see how it has laid a treacherous foundation for children through racism, marginalization, and oppression. We also know that this daunting history has perpetuated a set of circumstances that not everyone believes requires systemic change. This history and these circumstances ensnare children into poverty; they ensnare families into generations of trauma and repeated failures. They lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and a society that is inadequately resourced to help anyone trying to overcome struggles with health, housing, education, or employment.

If our intent at PEP is for young people to overcome and thrive, we must share our understanding of how these circumstances are contributing to the heartbreaking conditions impacting our children. This sharing takes courage. It also takes action. We cannot stand idly by, knowing that vulnerable people, including kids, are suffering. Racism, marginalization, and oppression are forms of trauma. Since we know just how insidious trauma can be in disrupting development and well-being, we must assert ourselves with courage to interrupt these generational cycles of trauma, stress, and adversity.


One of the most beautiful things about PEP is its heart. It is even part of our tagline: strengthening minds with heart. I observe such tenderness in the relationships between kids and staff. At PEP, there is a sensibility that the young people we serve are worth our time, energy, and investment. We feel a strong sense of compassion both for our kids and for one another. In our human experience we have a duty to have grace, to understand that humans are not perfect and that despite that imperfection, we will continue to take the risk of being in community with one another.

“Heart” is an intentionally big, amorphous word, infused with a bit of the intangible and yet, in it, there is also a rootedness that captures our experience as an organization. Delivering behavioral health and educational services to young people whose potential is so often untapped and whose abilities are overshadowed by the pain of their experiences takes a special understanding of the whole child. “Heart” captures the complexity of the concern, care, and compassion we feel as we do our work. It also conveys the lengths to which we will go on behalf of the kids we serve.


Many thanks again to the strategic planning team who put so much time and thought into capturing the values that best describe PEP. I am proud to lead an organization whose staff members regularly exhibit these qualities. It is a testament to our staff and their commitment to the kids and families we serve that we can so successfully pursue our mission of supporting young people to overcome and thrive.