Washington, D.C. — When Charles Bentil learned that Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. was looking for internal leaders willing to coach their peers in the organization’s “Recruit, Relaunch, Reconnect” (RRR) campaign, he applied for and got the job.
“In late 2021, with signs that the pandemic was coming to an end, YAP executive leaders launched the RRR campaign to get out in front of the Great Resignation,” Bentil said. “They wanted to make sure YAP was sufficiently staffed to resume in-person services with current programs while also having enough employees on board to serve new program participants.”
YAP is a national nonprofit in 33 states and Washington, D.C., that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to provide community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and congregate residential placements. YAP also partners with public safety systems to combine the nonprofit’s unique wraparound services approach with other evidence-based models to reduce violence. In recent years, energized by the social justice movement in 2020, more communities looking to transform systems to become more effective and racially equitable provided new opportunities for YAP to expand all its programs.
Bentil serves as Program Coordinator for one of the nonprofit’s violence prevention programs that hires formerly incarcerated individuals to serve as credible messengers. In 2019, six months after joining the YAP staff, Bentil, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Hampton University before his incarceration, shared his story with board members and fellow employees.
“Several years ago, I was a victim of a violent crime and was shot 13 times. I woke up from a coma after 32 days paralyzed from the waist down just to be charged under the King Pin Act. I was sentenced to 180 months 15 years for those who are not quick in math. For my first two years in prison, I was in a wheelchair and told I may not walk again. As you can see the devil is a liar. I’m up walking with a limp but waling,” he said. “While in prison I woke up from a different kind of coma – a time when I was dealing, when I was chasing money, and from when I was destroying families and communities selling poison. When I made this transition, I began mentoring young men who were coming in lost and with less than a 7th or 8th grade education.”
The new YAP Recruitment Specialist role adds to Bentil’s current responsibilities, with opportunities to gain new skills along the way. This month, he traveled from Washington, D.C., where the program he oversees is based, to meet with YAP’s Alameda, County, Calif. Youth Justice program team.
“The office was very receptive to any and every suggestion I had on recruitment and retention. The office is a brand-new team, from the Director down to part-time Advocates. All have less than six months on the job,” Bentil said.
“While in East Oakland we visited a work force development agency and then we were invited to a job fair. This fair has already produced two possible prospective bilingual employees.”
The timing could not have been more perfect for Alameda YAP Program Director Timeka McGowan, who recently accepted the position to lead the two-year-old program, and is looking to add three to five new staffers.
“Charles was great,” she said. “He assisted with engagement, going out into the community, and connecting us with organizations that are familiar with wraparound services.”
In addition to the Recruitment Specialists who receive additional compensation for their expanded roles, YAP included in its RRR campaign staff bonuses for recruitment and retention and launched a nationwide digital, TV, radio and print public service awareness (PSA) campaign. The goal is to tap into the current climate of people who are looking to make a difference in a workplace that leverages their individual strengths. The tagline for YAP’s PSA campaign, which appears in digital ads, is Others Talk Social Change, We Make it Happen.
After meeting with McGowan and her team, Bentil feels confident that Alameda County will be successful in retaining the great employees who have recently joined YAP, in addition to bringing on new ones who will be just as committed to advancing YAP’s mission.
“This office is destined for greatness,” he said.