Reprinted from The Sullivan County Child Care Council Summer Newsletter By Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Program Director Sarah March Vasquez
Sullivan County, NY — When anyone asks me about my job the first thing, I always say is that we’re hiring! The work that we do at Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. is rewarding and so meaningful. The need has never been greater for the work that we do.
YAP is a 47-year-old national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia serving nearly 150 communities, including Sullivan County. The organization is unique, partnering with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to provide safe, effective community-based alternatives to incarcerating young people or placing them in congregate care facilities.
When you work with YAP, you are working with the children and their families in the community that we live in. YAP’s services adhere to an evidence-based model that includes hiring neighborhood-based Advocates and/or behavioral health professionals who provide mobile services. We receive training that empowers us with tools to meet program professionals where they are, to see their strengths and to connect them with individualized tools to set and achieve positive goals.
As a YAP Advocate, you work with program participants one-to-one and help to make a difference in their lives. The people we work with have often been let down and appreciate having someone that they count on to serve as a role model, and to empower them with tools to succeed in life and give back to their communities. We understand that many of the children and families in our programs have had numerous service providers in and out of their lives and that it often takes time for them to really start to trust us and open up. But once they do, it’s a beautiful thing.
Before his promotion to a national leadership position with the organization, the previous Sullivan County YAP program director, Carl Graham, had been working with this organization for almost 22 years. YAP is not a place that’s easy to leave. Speaking personally, it gives you purpose. I was the kind of child growing up who could have really used an Advocate, but unfortunately did not have one. Working here gives me the opportunity to help kids and share my experiences and to show them that there is a better way of life and that if you work hard enough, with the right support, you can do anything that you set your mind to. When a child can relate to you and sees that you have been where they are it allows them to start to trust you and to open to you.
We had a participant who had been in the foster care system and was back home with her mother on a trial basis. She wanted nothing to do with anyone in the program and had no interest in anything that we had to offer. From a very young age she was taught not to trust anyone, that no one really wants to help you and that you don’t talk about anything that goes on in the home or with your family. But we didn’t give up we kept trying and kept working to show this participant that we were not going anywhere and that when we say we want to help in anyway that we can, we mean it. She started to come around but was still very closed off.
She ended up moving out of her mother’s home and getting pregnant while in the program. As her YAP Advocate, I promised her that I would be there for her every step of the way and that’s exactly what I did. I worked with her to prepare for the baby by going over safety, birthing plans, plans for after the baby is born and so on. The same participant who wanted nothing to do with us was now inviting me to her anatomy scan to learn the baby’s gender.
We also had two siblings in our program. When we first started working with these children, they struggled with being respectful and taking care of themselves or their belongings. They were both failing school and barely going and spent a lot of time on their own, doing whatever they wanted. We worked with this family for almost two years, and the children and parents are now doing amazing. The students are both on honor roll in school, attending school daily, and showing respect for themselves and others. They are focusing on their goals that we helped them set and are working towards them every day. Their behavior has improved tremendously. These two children now see that they are worth it and all it took was someone believing in them and their family.
Another program participant came to us on probation and was looking at jail time. He told us he was simply following in the footsteps of his family and was doing the only thing that he ever knew. When we first started working with this youth, he told me that there was no reason to shower or brush his teeth. He was violating his probation constantly, was not attending school and did not care about what the consequences were going to be. In this case, we learned that it was not so much that he did not want to do the right thing or that he did not want to not take care of himself, it was that no one ever showed him or taught him how to and that’s where we came in. By the end of the two years that he was in YAP, he had successfully completed probation, was attending school and was on track to graduate, and was offered a scholarship to a technical school in New York City. He was taking care of himself: showering daily, brushing his teeth, and washing his clothes.
Every time a YAP participant’s service period is ending, I tell them that just because they will not technically be in the program anymore doesn’t mean we won’t still be there for them. I tell them they can still reach out to me at any time. So many of the children and even families that my colleagues and I have worked with still reach out to just to check in from time to time. Working at YAP and helping children is my passion and if I can make even the slightest difference in someone’s life then I am doing my job. I am a strong believer that everyone deserves a second chance.