Las Vegas-based Clark County Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Program Director Nyeri Richards asked her colleagues and some of the young people they serve to think about hope and resilience as they reflect on the first ten months of 2020. YAP is a community-based alternative to youth incarceration and out-of-home congregate placements in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The YAP community-based alternative model is based on hiring neighborhood-based Advocates and training them to empower youth by helping them identify their strengths. The Advocates connect youth and families with individualized toolkits that include accessible resources to help them achieve their goals. As an essential service, YAP continues to partner with youth justice, child welfare and other social services systems, providing support to program participants throughout 2020 virtually and — adhering to public health PPE and social distancing guidelines — in-person contact.
Special thanks to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Clark County, Nev. Program Director Nyeri Richards for this submission
YAP program participant Caleal has applied for the YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship. The scholarship is one of the many resources the nonprofit makes available for program youth and their parents/guardians to add to the personalized toolkits needed to achieve their goals and firm their family’s foundation.
What brought me to YAP was me making bad decisions one after the other. I was hanging around some people I should not have been around at the time. We would go through cars, and snatch anything we see that we want to get to where we wanted to be. Since I have been in the YAP program, I have learned that there are many more ways to get to where you want in life without committing a felony or doing anything negative.
My experiences while being in YAP for the past 6 weeks were phenomenal. It is a great jumpstart into the real world. Your [Advocate]-mentor can teach you and tell you about how to make a way in life, or even seeing the light in the darkest situations. When I am with my mentor, we usually have interesting days. For the first couple weeks it is odd having to be with someone 2 days out the week and not know them at all, but after a while it gets normal and amusing. You can do all type of things with your mentor. It can range from going to try different food places you have never been to, or even going to car shows which I really enjoy because I am definitely a gear head.
You can learn miles and miles of things while you are in the YAP program. Your mentor can teach you skills and tools you would need to excel in anything of your choice. I learned that there is always a positive in any situation that you are in. For an example, me going to the detention center would be the bad in the situation, but the positive in the situation would be me getting a mentor and taking a U-turn to do right and not wrong. My mentor has probably taught me more things that I need to succeed in life than I have learned in high school. One thing that will certainly stick with me from going through this program is to make sure you are polite when you meet new people, or new connections you can use, because later on in life if you needed to give them a call about anything they would usually help you.
In Conclusion, having a mentor is an immensely helpful extra step that I had the opportunity to take. From what brought me to getting a mentor was not a great thing, but the outcome of me having one was fantastic. I have grown so much as a person from having a mentor, it taught me to open up about certain things, and not to keep stuff inside too much because it can harm you mentally then slowly physically. Everyone In my opinion should have a mentor not only because they help you improve yourself, boost your self-confidence, and finally give you the tools you need to succeed in life.
This scholarship can help me drastically with my tuition of the college I am attending next school year. The college I am going to is UTI (Universal Technical Institute). The campus is in Long Beach, California.
Ariana, YAP participant
2020 was a hard year. I would never go to school, my grades were so bad. But I’m happy that my mom made me realize I needed an education and needed to do something to fix myself. Also, going to jail helped me a lot. That’s no where you wanna be-real talk. But overall, 2020 was not the year for me but now I’m going to school. Well YAP helped ME realize I need to do better. I have more to live for then just walking around fighting and disrespecting people. I really want to thank my mom forever. She made who I am today.
Ja’Marion, YAP participant
I must say the year 2020 has not been my best year nor for my family. I came to the YAP program about four months into the pandemic and had just started my probation and really did not know that my home life was about to change for the next month or so. Apparently, something went wrong and we had to move from our place and stay at a hotel for two weeks, then had to move in with other family members and because it is 6 people in our family, we had to spit us up in two separate families’ homes. I learned that living with others can really be uncomfortable for everyone as time goes along,
Through the arguing and sly remarks that you hear from family members, you understand what is really going on. I must say that my mom showed great resilience during this time to ensure everyone was safe and taken care of while she worked and continued to look for a new place for us. I believe it was about six weeks and finally we were moving into our new apartment and that felt great.
I look back and am very thankful that my mother did not just give up and we all ended up in foster homes or split apart from each other. I also am thankful for my [YAP Advocate] mentor who is always positive and encouraging about life and how you can only control what you can touch, he tells me that all the time.
Mardreyanna, YAP participant
The year 2020 has been a bad year before Coronavirus took over the world. I didn’t go to school. I used to skip classes and just didn’t listen at school. I used to get suspended so some many times I would rarely make it a week. Since then, I changed a lot.
My number one support helped me a lot and that is my grandma. She changed my whole world and made me feel good in life. I used to be so bad and always showed a ‘don’t care’ attitude. But my grandma made my world a better place. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my beautiful grandma, I would not have changed to be a better person. But 2020 has reminded us this can be a messed up world. We done had many people die from Coronavirus and there are many other reasons but some of us got through it. I honestly feel it’s always some type of sickness that’s trying to take over our world but somehow we get through. We all made it!
When I first stepped in the YAP office, I was confused, shy and angry at my mom. Ms. Sharon helped me come out of all of that. Her and the other members of YAP made me feel welcomed and I stepped out of my comfort zone and started to see things different. The girl group was an inspiration to open up and do things another way. Now I’m comfortable with the people around me and patient with uncomfortable situations. Now there’s no such thing as giving up or looking back. YAP also helped me get a job that comes with a lot of benefits. Before I started this program, I was a whole different being, a bad example, and now I see everything as an opportunity to be and do good.
Nyeri Richards, Program Director for the Clark County Advocate Program
During a time when the world feels like it’s in shambles, racial and political tensions are at a high, and the revamping of our education system has left some feeling lonely and idle, it is easy to overlook the positives this year has brought about. Many would cynically laugh at the sheer sound of the word positive used during the Year of the Pandemic. Human touch and close proximity, once an important aspect of social connection now a taboo. With its sudden removal coupled with instant isolation, people found themselves yearning for a connection—even if just a simple one.
The year 2020 has left none unscathed. We have experienced many losses and witnessed chaos in ways we thought only Hollywood could replicate. Nonetheless, it has afforded us many gems we might have missed had our planet not taken a sick day. We are witnessing inverses and recluses finding commonalities in others, people once self-regarded now self-less and broken homes mending differences on the basis of valuing togetherness. I especially remember this during the days the room feels too quiet or the roads too still. I am part of awe and we are all in this together.
More so, we are learning to value the simplicities of each day. A humble smile penetrating through our mandated veils has become the prescription for unprecedented loneliness and fear. It is enough. I thank this year for the self-growth I would not have achieved had my life not been placed on pause and for its persuasive approach to healing the soul.
Elizabeth “Lizzie,” Echeverria, Clark County YAP Advocate
If you asked me, I would agree that 2020 could possibly be one of the most traumatic years the world has ever seen. Having to adjust to a new way of life in such a short period has disrupted all aspects of our lives. The way we work, the way we take care of our children, the way we get an education, and the way we interact and with our family and friends are just a few examples of how hard the pandemic has impacted our lives. Having to fight against “the invisible monster” the question that I found myself asking the most was, how can we find hope and resilience in the midst of not just the pandemic but also dealing with all other major issues the country is facing this year?
As for myself the hardest part of it all has been having to explain to my young son why life cannot be the same. I had to explain to him why he couldn’t see his friend or his teachers. The most challenging part was, when my own mother contracted the virus, and having to tell my son why he couldn’t be near his grandma or hug her was almost heartbreaking. Being away from our love ones did not make things any easier. It was becoming very difficult for me to try to take care of both of our mental health. The level of anxiety kept getting higher and higher. I came to understand that I wasn’t the only one going through this experience. I found hope and resilience through the people around me and ultimately my son. Seeing him smile kept me motivated to keep going and stay positive. I strongly believe that there is always some light at the end of the tunnel and even if our way of life never goes back to how it used to be, I know that I want to see myself there and those that I love there with me. It’s amazing the things love can make us conquer.
Krishinda McLendon, Clark County YAP Advocate
Moving to Las Vegas from California in July without having a stable job, during a global pandemic, and health crisis was very challenging for me. At that specific time in my life, I was pretty hopeless. Trying to find a job during a pandemic had proven to be stressful and at times, left me with a feeling of defeat. However, I persevered and did not give up on my search for employment. I continued my search until I was hired in August as a Youth Advocate for YAP.
All in all, I am so relieved and grateful that I continued my job search because I truly believe I have found my dream job. The best part about being an advocate for the youth is being able to show them a positive lifestyle outside what they have previously experienced. Despite the age of the child, everyone at some point experienced a difficult or challenging time. The great thing about my current position, I can provide that little hope of positivity and encouragement needed to keep them on the straight path.
With the encouraging support of my friends and family, I have been able to remain driven towards succeeding in my life and developing a career where I can make a difference. My perseverance has kept me hopeful through the pandemic and lead me to a position where I am so grateful for being a part of YAP.