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Encouraging Difference;
Embracing Oneself

TiaishaDandy

Photo courtesy of Tiaisha Dandy ’11

Tiaisha Dandy ’11

Sent to the principal’s office for her emotional outbursts during school, shy, fun-loving Cree struggled to cope with her emotions and make friends. But when a school counselor offered help and support, Cree started to understand her feelings and embrace who she is.

Cree is a character in a new children’s book, Cree Wins the Day, by Tiaisha Dandy ’11 and co-author Lora Bynum. The book is aimed at encouraging children to reach out to someone—a guardian, family member, teacher or counselor—in times of uncertainty, and to talk about feelings and emotions, in order to face their challenges.

“Being different doesn’t mean that you are different. Having a difference doesn’t ruin your ability to be great,” Dandy says. “We want children to know that it’s okay. Battling something that you don’t understand is not a negative thing, it just means that there’s a little bit more adversity to push forward, and adversity gives you strength.”

A psychology and communications co-major with a passion for working with children, Dandy and her co-author began discussing ways to tackle mental health issues and youth in the winter of 2016.

They first set out to research existing children’s books that deal with topics associated with mental health issues and disabilities. Finding few options, they knew they were on the right track and set about creating their main character.

Prior to attending Bryn Mawr College, where she earned a master of social service and a master of law and social policy, Dandy served as director of To Our Children’s Future with Health, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Philadelphia youth. Having worked with at-risk children, Dandy says, “Cree is a reflection of the youth served in the program, many of them struggling with their own issues academically, emotionally, and personally, and ignored or taken for granted.”

Like Cree’s supportive counselor in the book, Theresa Gilliams, Ph.D., professor of English at Albright, has been a mentor to Dandy since 2005. “She is a big influence in my life,” says Dandy. “I consult with her before any major move. She’s watched me grow from a college student to a professional. I simply love her.”

On the back cover of Dandy’s book, Gilliams writes, “I love the focus on difference, particularly disability, as something to be celebrated and articulated rather than shunned or ignored. The most impactful aspect of Cree’s expressions, in my opinion, is her comfort with herself and knowledge of the various emotions that inform her thinking and longings.”

Dandy currently works as a program analyst for the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services in Philadelphia. Cree Wins the Day can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

– Jenna Paiano ’18