SEEKS-funded V.I.B.E program making a big impact at Sto-Rox

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 5/19/2023

The V.I.B.E team stands together for a picture


The V.I.B.E program — a three-person violence intervention and prevention team at Sto-Rox— stands for Violence Intervention Building Empowerment, but Hassain Estes, the leader of the program, likes to sometimes refer to them as something else. 


“Personally, I feel like we’ve got the dream team,” Estes said. “We work together well, and that builds everything else around us.” 


The V.I.B.E team started at Sto-Rox in February and is funded by the Project SEEKS SES grant, a partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) that addresses trauma, behavior and mental health issues in ten school districts. In a short period of time, Estes said they’ve made great headway. 


“I feel like we’ve made a big dent in what we do here. The kids have connected with us, and they understand that this isn’t just a job, it’s like a lifestyle for us. We’re really doing everything we can to push a better influence on them and create better mindsets,” Estes said. 


“I think the program has made a big impact. Teachers have come up to me and said, ‘since you’ve been here, there’s been so many fewer fights and situations.’” 


The V.I.B.E team consists of Estes, Ronesha Stephens and Ed Pierce. Estes grew up in the East Hills and has regularly spent time in McKees Rocks taking pictures and shooting videos. Stephens owns Just Jemini, a clothing and accessory store in McKees Rox. Pierce is a Sto-Rox graduate and has spent years coaching football and baseball in the area. 


While Estes, Stephens and Pierce’s backgrounds are all a bit different, they share a common ground of genuinely caring about the kids and their future. 


“I personally feel like I’m talking to myself when I’m talking to the kids. We really relate to them and know where they’re coming from. We understand the help that they need. We understand the issues going on at home and that some might not have certain resources,” Estes said 


“I feel like because we understand that we know how to talk to them, and really move around the issues that they have. We just know that gap that we need to cover. It’s a natural thing.” 


The V.I.B.E team regularly spends time in the school district and in the community. Collectively, they’ve become familiar and friendly faces. But simply being around hasn’t been the catalyst for this group’s success. As Estes said, their ability to relate to the kids has been key. 


As a student, Estes said he was oftentimes angry and misunderstood. In Stephens’ words, “there’s not too much that I haven’t been through.” Life experience has taught this group a lot, and they now want to pass on life lessons they’ve learned. 


“We understand that bad days can come from things at home and certain traumas that we go through in life. Most times, they just need a little love,” Stephens said. “We just love how open the kids are. If there is an issue with a child that day and we’re securing the hallways or cafeteria, they’ll come straight to us and we’re ready to mediate.” 


Estes, Stephens and Pierce have very much embraced a team mindset since coming into their roles. They each might know and relate to a different group of students, but they’ve tried to bring those groups of students together. 


That team mindset has stretched onto the Sto-Rox staff. Estes said that the V.I.B.E team tries “to build relationships with everybody here because they complement us and we complement them.”  


A strong example of that collaboration has been the team’s relationship with the district’s security, who Pierce said will now relay to him when a situation might be bubbling. 


“The security will come to me like, ‘Ed, I think you need to talk to them, instead of just trying to restrain or pull them out. They know that’s what we’re here for,” Pierce said. 


“We talk to them, but don’t talk down to them. Even when they make a mistake, we still treat them like young adults. We know that we have to treat them with respect to get that respect back.”