Lancaster County, PA — A couple of weekends ago, Amber learned the true meaning of being an Advocate for Harlow, a program participant in Lancaster County (PA) Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. YAP is a 46-year-old national nonprofit in 31 states and the District of Columbia that provides community-based alternatives to out-of-home congregate care and child welfare and youth justice placements.
As Harlow’s Advocate, Amber uses her YAP training to help the eight-year-old see her strengths and connect her to tools to achieve positive goals. After learning about Lancaster’s Girls on the Run 5K event, Amber worked with Harlow’s mother to encourage her to participate.
“Girls on the Run is focused on building girls’ confidence and helping them see their unique ‘star power’ strengths,” Amber said.
Preparation for the race required about three months of group training. A few weeks in, Amber learned Harlow had been breaking some rules.
“She was consistently eloping and causing the staff to have to disrupt the lesson,” Amber said.
YAP Advocates are trained to relentlessly help young people see their strengths and connect them with tools to achieve their goals. At the same time, they work with program participants’ families to provide resources needed to firm their foundation. Amber saw Girls on the Run as a powerful tool in Harlow’s toolkit.
“I’m in no way, in shape or form [for a 5K] but didn’t want her to miss out on this wonderful program,” Amber said. “I then agreed to spend the next eight weeks training for this run with Harlow.”
It meant spending every Monday and Thursday with her, physically getting ready for the run while encouraging Harlow along the way.
“This program is full of girls empowerment and lessons on how to address conflict and different behaviors all while doing the running to train for the event,” Amber said. “The coaches are tremendously amazing people and full of encouragement, positivity and patience.”
Amber said the experience gave Harlow the attention she needed. While she has been with YAP for three years, she said the training also helped her, strengthening her understanding of what it takes to provide individualized services needed to yield positive outcomes.
“I had a blast as well as learned many new great tools to put in my toolbox for my work.”
The lessons did not come easily. Race day posed some of the biggest challenges.
“The run was quite a struggle, as Harlow started off very excited and at full speed when we first began. She made it through the first mile and then wanted to give up. By the time we got to the second mile, she literally stated, ‘I don’t care anymore, and I don’t want to finish,’” Amber said. “I reminded Harlow that she is a part of a team and that Miss Amber and her parents and sister all came out to support her and that she can show them all her gratitude by completing the race and that if she completes, she is going to feel proud of herself.”
Amber was worried when her pep talk didn’t turn up Harlow’s energy. Then she noticed something. The harder she worked to move forward the more Harlow tried to keep up.
“We finished and she was very excited then and did admit that this was worth it. This is all about Harlow and her success and how hard she worked to get through this,” Amber said. “It was quite a lot of exercise and she truly had to push herself to get through this. Seeing the growth and empowerment that all of these girls are taught was truly a gift that will keep on giving and for that I couldn’t be more grateful to experience this.”
Like other Advocates and frontline workers at the national nonprofit, Amber is driven by the YAP’s “no reject; no eject” guiding principle.
If Harlow didn’t understand this before the race, she no doubt gets it now. She stayed the course, and her Advocate was with her every step of the way.
“She knew that Miss Amber was under no circumstances going to let her give up,” Amber said.
Learn more about YAP at YAPInc.org and follow us on Twitter @YAPInc.