The nonprofit youth foundation known as Dylan’s Wings of Change (DWC) is spreading its wings even wider. Last month, founder Ian Hockley announced that the foundation would be adding Jessica Michaels as the new Global Program Director for Wingman for Dance. Michaels, who has more than 20 years of experience in the acrobatic arts and dance world, has been a both a volunteer and part-time employee for DWC, and is excited to take on this new challenge.
Double Good spoke with Michaels about her new role and what she hopes to accomplish as Wingman continues to grow.
Q: How did you first become involved with Wingman?
A: I am a dance teacher from Newtown, CT that taught for two dance studios greatly impacted and devastated by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec 14, 2012. Though my focus turned to keeping my dancers, the surviving children, safe, happy and healthy, my immediate trauma response was to shut down internally, and sadly I lost hope. I avoided anything and everything that had to do with the shooting — news, foundations, memorials, etc — in order to keep moving forward and stay focused on the children in my classes.
In September of 2015, I was invited to meet up with a dance industry professional to talk business, and it happened to be an event being sponsored by one of the Sandy Hook foundations. I had no interest in being part of any Sandy Hook foundation event, but meeting with her was an important career opportunity, so I gave in.
That event was for a new program called Wingman being implemented at a middle school. The presentation was given by Ian Hockley, father of Dylan Hockley, one of the first-grade victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook. I listened to his message of empathy and inclusion and leadership, as well as witnessed the enamored expressions on the faces of middle schoolers — anyone who has worked with middle schoolers will understand why that is impressive! This was everything I’d aimed to teach in my dance classes. For the first time in almost 3 years, my heart softened, and I felt a growing sense of hope. I was so inspired by Ian Hockley’s immense bravery, positivity, and desire to create a butterfly effect of compassion and courage — small acts that create significant impact — that I instantly knew I wanted to be part of that butterfly effect.
Q: What sort of activities will you be introducing to Wingman?
A: After volunteering for the foundation for 5 months, I was hired as an independent contractor to adapt the Wingman program used in schools and sports to the dance industry. The Wingman for Dance program launched in 2016.
Wingman is a youth-led social and emotional learning program of engaging team-bonding/trust-building activities that inspire children to be more compassionate, empathetic, courageous, and inclusive young leaders.
Activities include “The Us List,” where students, as a team, create a list of positive behaviors and values that they feel they can commit to for the coming year. Young people feel a greater sense of ownership when they take part in choosing their behaviors. The students, as a team, decide how to deal with someone that goes outside of those stated boundaries. The students, as a team, create a “resiliency tool box” plan for when there is conflict, a fellow student is in need or when issues arise that need addressing. The team then feels a greater sense of ownership, responsibility, that the team can be trusted and that they individually are trusted.
There are dozens of different Wingman activities that include: getting to know you, gratitude, generosity, resiliency, communication, taking the lead, and going above and beyond for others. They can include whole body experiences through movement, art, writing, as well as discussion topics.
In 2019, we are introducing the Youth Leadership Experience & Certification to the dance industry where Wingman trainers come into the dance studio and work to inspire the whole community together: students, teachers, parents, administrators. The reality is, when it comes to values, everyone needs to be on board — not just the students.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
A: I am so excited and honored and humbled to be invited to take on the role of Global Program Director as a full-time employee of the foundation, something I never imagined I would ever do. My short-term goals are to help Ian create a main digital library of ALL of the Wingman activities in such a way that they cross over to any teaching professional working with young people. This will easily expand Wingman into any and all genres of teaching and coaching. I will also be touring the country this summer for Wingman speaking engagements and to present Wingman workshops to dance industry professionals.
My long-term goals are to create as many small acts of empathy, inclusion, and courage as I can with the hopes of a butterfly effect that has immense impact on the world. #onemillionwingman
When asked why Jessica just had to be the one who took on this massive role, Hockley said, “It was her involvement right from the start… She has entrepreneurial experience from her time with her businesses, she knows the dance industry well, and she has the kindest soul. A perfect skill set.” When Hockley saw that the program was ready to expand and include cheer and gymnastics, he knew Jessica had to be the one to lead the program. Hockley believes that the program will explode in popularity, gaining traction in schools, studios, and gymnasiums around the world.
Visit their website to learn more or register for Wingman for Dance. You can also support the organization when you buy popcorn using code WINGMAN, and 50% of your purchase will help spread their awesome programs to more kids.