As a marriage and family therapist Maxine Kibble, known as Miss Maxine, has heard and seen a lot, but there is one case that she will always remember. While doing her internship for her PhD in Clinical Psychology six years ago, she was given a case load which included a man who was a skin head with a criminal past. Once he came into the room and met Kibble he refused to work with her because she is African American. At first he used racial slurs and was offensive but Kibble persisted. He asked to have a different therapist. Her supervisor told her the client didn’t get to choose which counselor he saw.
Although the client refused to open up to her he kept going back to the sessions. They played cards and he taught her to play poker. Every time he came in, Kibble would tell him, “Tell me what you want.”
He’d say “I want a white male [therapist.]”
She’d say, “We’re still trying to find one.”
“He finally cracked. It took six months,” recalled Kibble. His past included being beaten by a father and joining gangs. When he graduated from the program and received a pin and a diploma, he wanted Kibble to put the pin on. “Why?” Kibble asked him.
“Because you cared about me…The Salvation Army has a secret weapon, [Miss Maxine] she gave me hope,” Kibble recalled the man saying. That moment was like a lightning bolt for Kibble who realized she wanted to work with people, like this client, who had come out of jail and help them rejoin society. “He doesn’t realize how much he helped me,” she said of her client.
Kibble has had a remarkable life which she has used to help others. She is a native New Yorker born and raised in Brooklyn. When she was 12 years old she decided to be a dancer. Kibble is one of eight siblings. Her parents did not finish high school but believed in education.
“My parents believed education will set you free,” she said. When she was 18 she auditioned for the Alvin Ailey Modern Dance School and was accepted. Through the dance school, she was sent to Sweden for an exchange program and took ballet. While at New York University she studied French in Paris for 10 weeks. She has an undergraduate degree in special education and continued her education, earning a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Psychology and will receive her PhD in psychology this coming May.
Kibble was a professional dancer for 10 years. She married an Englishman and lived in Brazil for a while and had a daughter. After a divorce she married a man she had previously met as a college student.
Kibble also took in and raised her nephew since the age of 15. She and her husband Victor recently moved to Imperial Beach.
For the past five years Kibble has worked at Volunteers of America Southwest, a local non-profit as the Job Readiness Coordinator for the organization’s treatment facility called Renaissance Treatment Center. The center is a 120-bed treatment facility in National City for individuals with substance abuse and sometimes right out of jail. Kibble prepares clients to enter the work force through a Job Readiness Program she has developed.
Kibble is excited about her success stories which include a client who served 18 years in jail. He is now a foreman putting his daughters through college. “He worked through his emotional problems and anger and has found jobs for 13 of my students,” she said. (Kibble calls her clients students.)
To prepare her students to re-enter society, Kibble also invites some of her former students to speak during graduation ceremonies. “They talk about their experience and how they felt being on the other side,” she said.
Kibble also invites professionals to speak who give job interview tips to the graduates and information about what employees are looking for in a candidate. Some of the speakers have included two stock brokers, a senior architect (her husband), a chef (her daughter), and manager of a hair salon (her nephew).
The students also get to ask questions of the speakers. “This gives [my students] an opportunity to talk to people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk to. If you just got out of jail, how can you meet a banker?” she said.
She also helps her students rehearse how to talk about their criminal records (keeping responses to only eight seconds).
Kibble has compiled a training manual with lessons that allows others to teach the same way she does, just in case. She has written 100 lessons over the five years she has been teaching which include topics like re-entry, money management, substance abuse and decision making. For each lesson she has written a vignette to use as an example on how to handle a situation. She also teaches her students how to use different softwares including Power Point, Outlook and Publisher. “I give them tools, confidence and hope to improve the quality of their lives,” she said.
Kibble’s students also write a 10 chapter book on their lives to help them understand who they are. Two of her students are now selling their books on Amazon. Kibble uses a cross curriculum method of teaching during the part of her class she coined “The Psychology of You.” As a therapist she helps the students understand who they are and get over past trauma.
Her clients enter the Renaissance Treatment Center in three ways that all include an addiction: They have no place to go after coming out of jail; can request to come in off the street; or family members can bring them in.
“I build trust in an environment that is psychologically safe to talk about things. Most of them deal with abandonment,” explained Kibble.
“This wasn’t a planned strategy,” she said of how things turned out. “I was hired as a therapist but because I started helping people with resumés, Volunteers of America allowed me to grow,” she said.
This got Kibble thinking, “If they graduate they need a new set of clothes, so we can’t have more than 10 graduates at a time. They should have a stage [for the graduation ceremony.] How much is it going to cost?” She solved the problem of the stage by using the Malcolm X Library. At graduation her students are also treated to a five course meal and she even brings in her own china, crystal and silver.
Kibble does some of her own fundraising for her program. She was able to get a donation of 20 computers and even her husband pitched in and donated office furniture. Kibble also created “Miss Maxine’s Boutique” at the facility, a shop staffed by volunteers to help her students find clothes for job interviews and court appearances. She said some of her students need to learn some basic skills like tying a tie.
Kibble’s program has a 95 percent job placement success.
“To give myself credit is not fair. Nothing is done in a vacuum,” she said. Kibble said many of her co-workers donate their time to help with graduation during their time off including the chef. Kibble cooks for her students on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
“They know I’m passionate. I’m there for them. ‘If you show up everyday, I’ll show up everyday,’ I tell them. I feel it’s an obligation for me. People have been good to me. If I drop dead - what have I done? What small task have I done to make the world a little bit better? There are a lot of people out there making a difference. If you touch one person you have done your part,” she said.