Nonprofit Employer Lets these Siblings Share their Family Values with Others
Harrisburg, Pa. – Born and raised in Pennsylvania’s capital, Dominque Morgan, and Don Urrutia are siblings who share a passion for making a difference in the community they grew up in. Today, as adults, they still live not far from one another in Harrisburg, the headquarters of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., where they both also work.
YAP is a high-impact social justice nonprofit that partners with youth justice, child welfare and other social services systems in 31 states and the District of Columbia to provide community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, out-of-home placement, and neighborhood violence. Mostly neighborhood-based frontline YAP Advocates and behavioral health professionals are trained to help program participants see their strengths while working with their families to firm their foundation.
“I got into some trouble when I was younger so I can relate to having to dig yourself out of a hole. Damage is done to these kids before we even have the opportunity to meet them, Urrutia, 47, said. “YAP gave me an opportunity when my resume didn’t strongly reflect that I deserved one. With my sister working at YAP, I would see (the organization) active in the community and my gut told me this is a good opportunity to align myself with. I was very appreciative of the chance.”
Urrutia is the Assistant Director of the Dauphin County Community Treatment Center, a partnership between YAP and Dauphin County Probation Services. Urrutia is fast-approaching four years with YAP. He helps youth, ages 14-18 who have been referred to YAP through the courts, through recreation, social interaction, picking up or dropping them off, facilitating group therapy or more. Coming up on her 15th year at the nonprofit, his sister works at Tri-County Behavioral Health, a separate YAP program, as a Behavioral Health Consultant. In her role, she supervises behavioral health staff, and helps to provide wraparound support for teachers, youth participants, and their families.
“It’s hard to find African Americans in our community that can relate with our youth,” said Morgan, who feels that people who have the passion for the work might not know they would be considered, recalling the hesitancy her brother felt before he applied. “He was kind of leery, but he went in for an interview, got the job and accepted the position. He has done well, and he has moved up since he has been on board.”
More than half of Harrisburg’s population is African American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 statistics. Morgan said it’s important for youth and families to see representation with the people they serve.
“I am a first-generation college student, and I don’t mind sharing that with anyone,” said Morgan, who received her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Hampton University, an Historically Black College/University in Virginia. “Seeing your own is important.”
Urrutia agrees that representation matters. He said that some people are afraid of the youth, but he’s never felt that way.
“I just always felt comfortable and it’s a natural fit to service the boys,” Urrutia said. “My goal is to spark young men’s mind, to get them to understand how the world works, and inform and enlighten them on things that they won’t be taught in high school.”
The work, while rewarding, hasn’t always been easy for Morgan and Urrutia who have both been devastated over the years after losing a few program participants to violence. Morgan lost two young men, one age 20 whom she worked with from kindergarten through fifth grade. The other youth, who was 18 at the time of his death, was supposed to graduate from high school this past May. Morgan had worked with him from kindergarten to eighth grade. Both were murdered.
“To watch them go so far, be discharged because they met goals and have their life taken, it was tough,” Morgan, 45, said. “That’s why I think that the program my brother runs is so necessary because the violence is getting worse in this area.”
Urrutia also had a youth in his program who was killed. He had just taught the young man how to tie a tie.
“He was an awesome kid. It was a shock to the center,” Urrutia said of the youth. “It really reaffirmed how important this work is.”
Before joining YAP, Morgan spent six years in education, first as a teacher and then in an administrative role where she noticed a lot of children with behavioral issues. In turn, she sought out to work with children directly through therapeutic services.
“I have a passion working for children; I have a social workers heart,” Morgan said. “I often see how inner-city children are left behind. I service all areas, but throughout my years at YAP, I’d say 90 percent of my caseload has been with inner city clients. It’s rewarding work. Everyone has to work together, and they have to want the services to work.”
Morgan takes her time in getting to know the youth, their families, teachers and even principals, which she says is imperative in developing a relationship with program participants to earn their trust.
“I am only 5 feet tall,” Morgan added. “I don’t stand very tall, but they respect me. I have no issues with being disrespected or having my personal space being invaded because I’ve had them since they were so young.”
Additionally, Urrutia, who is also a barber, cuts program participant’s hair and was instrumental with helping his team create a call-in number to conduct virtual group sessions during the height of the pandemic.
“I wear working at YAP as a badge of honor…my decision making, who I associate with, I am always thinking about my family name, my career and the company’s name. It feels good and is rewarding to both work professionally and give back within the community that (my sister and I) were both raised in,” said Urrutia, who attended Norfolk State University, another HBCU.
Both Morgan and Urrutia are thankful for YAP. Those who work with them say the feeling is mutual.
“They’re great examples of the power of recruiting staff from the same community as our kids,” said Bob Swanson, the YAP’s Regional Director of Central Pennsylvania. “Both are born and raised in Harrisburg, have deep ties to the community, and strongly value their communities with a special heart for our kids and families.”