Dallas – For the past five years Angela Heggins has worked for Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. in Dallas County helping youth and their families work through their behavioral health struggles.
“I provide sessions to children who have a mental health diagnosis to help them work on their behavior, understanding their mental illness and provide them with education,” said Heggins, a qualified mental health professional. “I help with anything that helps increase their knowledge about what is going on and giving them the tools they need when their case has been closed successfully.”
YAP’s Texas Behavioral Health program offers a continuum of behavioral health to support children and adolescents in their homes, schools and community. YAP’s trauma-informed services help individuals build resilience and promote healing and mitigate potential negative impacts by connecting youth with supportive adults, providing evidence-based treatments. In addition to Dallas, the Texas program is offered in Austin, Fort Worth and Houston.
A national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia, YAP supports youth justice, child welfare, and behavioral health systems partners by providing effective, more racially equitable community-based alternatives to incarceration and congregate out-of-home placements.
Heggins, whose background includes behavioral and mental health, is a full-time supervisor working with adults at the public defender’s office overseeing mental health case managers, and works for YAP part-time providing services to young people and their families.
“I applied to YAP because I saw the mission statement about helping children,” Heggins said. “I see the effects of where a child can grow up and end up on the adult side (of the justice system). With children, they’re more apt to change their behavior as opposed to adults. Children are more open to seeing the overall picture. Sometimes adults don’t see the need to try to change their behavior because they’ve been doing it for so long.”
Heggins says a lot of the families she works with are from low-income backgrounds and single parent homes. She makes it a point to make all her program participants feel special and cared for. She provides rewards for program participants for simple tasks and works with them to complete 30-day contracts she implements that may include not cursing at their parents or acting out at school. YAP reimburses staff for things like this, but Heggins says sometimes she forgets to turn in receipts because she “just likes brightening youths’ day.”
“The joy I get from the kids’ faces when they come out of the store with their own bags and have picked their own stuff is the reward for me,” she added. “I love my job. It’s a small thing, but sometimes I give them gift cards. I also go above and beyond when my kids have birthdays.”
Heggins also appreciates the special role she plays with program participants who, like her, are African American.
“In the African American culture, we have probably lived with mental illness and seen our family members have it for years and we would say, ‘oh that’s just Uncle Johnny, that’s how he acts;’ never understanding that Uncle Johnny needs some help,’ but I want people to know if you don’t have insurance there’s still help for you whether it’s needed for kids or adults.”
Dallas County Behavioral Health Program Director Rodney Taylor said Heggins is able to blend professionalism, competence, and authenticity that contributes to the betterment of YAP’s families.
“In the five years she has served with YAP she has helped change countless lives and alter future destinies into a more positive direction,” Taylor said. “Angela is also a tremendous team player as she is quick to lend support to new team members, take on a new program participant or assist in a training opportunity. There are a lot of good things about YAP and Angela is a necessary part of the discussion of the good that YAP provides to its families and the community at large.”
Born in Minnesota and raised in Arkansas, Heggins moved to Dallas after a change of life. Heggins plans on continuing to make a difference in the lives of families and youth for a long time.
“I say contact me if you need some help,” Heggins added. “It’s rewarding for me when program participants get discharged successfully and when they meet their goals.”