Newark, NJ — Curtis Moore and his colleagues jumped into action in March when COVID-19 put their resilience to the test. Curtis is a program coordinator at Essex/Union County, NJ Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a community-based alternative to youth incarceration and out-of-home placement.
In 29 states and the District of Columbia, YAP trains neighborhood-based Advocates to use their compassion, creativity and connections to mentor and support young people in their homes and communities instead of youth prisons and congregate child welfare facilities. The Advocates empower each program participant with skills and support to develop individualized service plans that help them see and realize their strengths. At the same time, the Advocates connect youth and their parents/guardians with tools and contacts to help them reach their goals and give back to their communities.
With the onset of the pandemic, Curtis and his teammates had to quickly adapt to make the YAP model work using virtual technology.
“We were all concerned about how virtual was going to look. It was during the school year and while the schools and YAP’s national office were working to supply laptops or tablets as quickly as possible, the organization was experiencing funding challenges; and everyone was pitching in,” Curtis said. “So, I said, ‘let me see if I can call my contacts.’”
Curtis reached out to everyone he knows, including his friend, Mary Anne Fanning, a program manager for the Adolescent Advocacy Program in the Department of Social Work and Child Advocacy at Montclair State University.
“After a couple of weeks of back and forth conversations, Mary Anne called me with news that she would be able to help us get 25 laptops donated by way of Laptop Upcycle; however, the youth would have to return the laptops at the end of the summer when it was thought they would receive devices from their school districts,” he said.
A division of Montclair, NJ-based nonprofit, HackNCraftNJ, Inc., Laptop Upcycle is committed to collecting, refreshing, and distributing technology to students who might not otherwise have access to the tools to succeed in school.
With their donated laptops, the YAP Advocates have developed new ways to communicate with and support YAP participants and their families to help them achieve their program goals.
“Telecommunication has become the primary way the Advocates meet with their assigned youth and their families,” Curtis said. “The laptops are also extremely helpful in connecting the youth and families with resources to meet their basic needs, including food, and cleaning supplies.”
As the pandemic persisted, Curtis grew concerned, knowing the laptops would have to be returned few months.
“Returning the laptops at the end of the summer just would not work because it was unlikely the school districts would be distributing laptops. These kids need these laptops.” he said. “We can do our meetings with Zoom without them; but they all really needed to keep the laptops to support their ongoing education and job training needs, and for all the individual activities that they engage in with their Advocates.”
Curtis spoke to Mary Anne, who shared his concerns with Jon Bonesteel, co-founder of Laptop Upcycle.
Curtis said Jon spoke with his committee board, and not long after, he received an email from Mary Anne saying the Laptop Upcycle committee agreed that the youths should keep the computers; and that two additional laptops would be added to the original 25 requested.
With the continued virtual support from their Advocates, some of the YAP participants have found jobs. Others are enrolled in online college classes, and all are in regular communication with their Advocates and staying on track with their individualized service plans.
“The donated technology puts tools the youths and their families need to reach their goals right at their fingertips,” Curtis said. Thanks to Mary Anne Fanning of Montclair State University and Laptop Upcycle for making that happen.”