Employing technology and practicing social distancing, Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. remains focused on its mission to provide community-based support to young people who would otherwise be incarcerated or placed into congregate facilities. An alternative to youth prison and out-of-home placement, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare and other family services systems in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
“YAP program participants struggle during normal times. With the pandemic, the young people and families we serve are more at risk than ever,” said YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer.
The nonprofit’s neighborhood-based Advocates are trained to help young people identify their strengths while connecting them and their families with tools that help them achieve their goals. Advocates work with each youth and family to design an individualized service plan that meets their unique needs, whether it be completing school, applying for a job, or receiving substance use and/or behavioral health services. With most program participants, the needs also include basics, like help with food or utilities.
Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, YAP Advocates have been more in tune than ever with the needs of program participants. In Clark County, Nev., Advocate Leticia “Tee” Ward works with two younger program participants, with whom she created an age-appropriate conversation starter.
“I planned an activity for them to create a canvas of a flower that represents them,” she said. “We always discuss ways to change their thought process and help them ‘blossom’ from the darkness that surrounds them. They both drew their flowers, and so did I,” she said.
The activity provided an opportunity for the youths to express how they’re coping with so much change, particularly in light of challenges that existed prior to the pandemic.
“[One program participant] said that even though there seems to be a lot of darkness around her, she still finds hope in the center and prays that it continues to grow,” Ward said. “[The other] said she doesn’t see darkness, but she hopes to one day plant seeds of hope and positivity so that her life will be filled with beautiful bright flowers.”
The pandemic has also created an organic opportunity for older program participants to give back to their families and neighbors.
Erick, a YAP program participant from Maryland, and his Advocate, Patrick Nowmonoh, were among a group of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties teams that have been distributing food, hygiene products and cleaning supplies in their communities. While practicing social distancing, they hope to alleviate community stress.
“On the team’s first distribution day alone, over 20 plus families received meats — chicken, fish, turkey, beef, pork and chicken nuggets,” said Metro YAP Program Director Syl Parson. “Erick and Patrick and the others also distributed toilet paper, water, paper towels, bleach and other cleaning supplies, soap, hand sanitizer, cereal and other non-perishables as well as potatoes, onions, vegetables, body wash, hair and beauty supplies and more.”
The Maryland distribution was an extension of one of YAP’s many partnerships with local community organizations that serve as service project supported work partners for program youth.
“Our partnership with Holy Mountain Ministries grew last spring and summer, when our program wrote letters on the organization’s behalf for various donations from Walmart, Target, Chipotle, Aldi, Giant and CVS,” Parson said.
YAP is working in similar ways in communities across the country, making necessary connections to keep the foundation of families firm so that program participants can stay focused on their goals.
“This is our mission, to help and serve, especially during crucial times,” Parson added.