Tampa, Fla. — This month, members of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Board of Directors got some up-close-and-personal reminders of why they volunteered to serve the national nonprofit. While in Tampa for a quarterly meeting, the board members met program leaders, partners, and individual benefitting from YAP’s community-based services.
At a dinner the evening before their quarterly meeting, Pinellas Pasco Program Director Heidi Molina introduced Quay, 18, a former YAP Youth Justice Program participant. He talked about facing complex challenges since the age of two when after his sister went to school with burns from touching an iron on the stove; the siblings were separated from their mother.
YAP is a national nonprofit it 34 states and Washington, DC. that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, education, public safety, and other systems to deliver community-based services as a more effective and racially equitable alternative to youth incarceration, congregate residential treatment, and neighborhood violence.
Quay spoke about being in the child welfare system, placed with his grandmother for a short time and later with his father when he returned briefly from prison before another incarceration. After his grandmother’s death, he went to live with an aunt in South St. Petersburg, where at age 13, he committed an offense that landed him on probation.
“I was a kid; I didn’t know what to do. I was just trying to feed my family. We were going through it. We were struggling,” he said.
Quay said that the rules of his probation required that he be in the house at 6 p.m., and that he probation violated over and over because the restriction made playing outside with his friends and just having fun and being a kid impossible. He said he dropped out of school in ninth grade as his way of having time outdoors with his friends. Quay said his life changed when a judge moved his curfew to 11 p.m. and enrolled him in YAP.
“When I was 17, she introduced me to the YAP program; she’s the reason why I stopped violating because I had a talk with her, and she changed my curfew to 11,” Quay said.
Quay said being a part of the program helped him see his strengths and opened his eyes to new possibilities.
“I’d never been out of my neighborhood; so the first time I went to the beach was with them [his YAP Advocates]; and my first time doing any kind of critical activity like yoga, easing my mind; getting my mind off other stuff, I did that with the YAP program,” Quay added.
Board members also visited the Tampa YAP office where Program Director Felicia Wells and YAP Advocate Ishmell McKitchen briefed them on Stop Now And Plan or SNAP® and other community-based services they deliver to keep young people who might be at risk for youth justice system involvement on a positive path. The Tampa office administers SNAP® and other preventative programs as part of its partnership with the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, which describes SNAP® on its website as a “front-end” resource to the Department of Juvenile Justice Office of Prevention, for at-risk youth ages 6-11 and their families.
Patricia Smith, a grandmother of a program participant, expressed her gratitude to YAP Advocate McKitchen for empowering her grandson with tools to focus on positivity. “He still uses the principles of SNAP. It impacts his life; it helped us to be able to engage more.” She added that at times, her grandson even reminds her to employ the SNAP principles.
Following the office visit, the YAP board members visited a Tampa apartment complex where many of the Hillsborough County program participants live. The complex manager shared his appreciation for YAP and talked about many of the challenges faced by parents and children YAP serves.
YAP Southeast Regional Vice President LaVeisha Cummings, who arranged the visit and dinner program, also introduced Board members to Orange, Osceola, Seminole County team leaders — Program Director Seyny Dressler, Assistant Program Director Richard McFarland and Clinical Director Carmen Ziers.
Ziers shared details of YAP’s Behavioral Health services and Dressler and McFarland talked about services they deliver through a partnership with Embrace Families.
They provided an overview on their youth justice prevention and diversion, wraparound mentoring services, and a new Rapid Response program to support youth returning home from placement and their families.
Additionally, board members learned about other successful Pinellas Pasco YAP Youth Justice Program participants from Program Coordinator Ophilia Ciesicki.
Ending the briefings were inspirational closing remarks at the dinner from Quay.
“I actually love the YAP program and I just want to thank everybody for treating me like family, and hopefully one of these days, I’ll be a YAPper.”