Chicago, IL — Whether he’s in the barbershop or at a Chicago event, Lee Jones is sharing stories about his job. He’s among those on the frontlines of a movement to transform lives and public systems. These days, Jones is also in full-force recruitment mode.
“There are a lot of people who want to do this work and have no idea jobs exist that pay people to do it,” he said. “But I’m on the Southside and Westside spreading the word, and there are lots of people filling out applications.”
Jones is a program director at YAP. That’s the acronym for Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a unique national nonprofit that provides community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, out of home placement and neighborhood violence. In Chicago for 15 years, YAP is in nearly 150 communities in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
People who work for YAP are in every way Advocates for young people with complex needs — kids with poor school attendance, involvement with the justice system, heavily exposed to violence and trauma; youth challenged with developmental disabilities, mental health needs and/or other struggles.
YAP’s training gives employees skills to help program participants see their strengths and connect them with tools to set and achieve positive goals. As part of the YAP model, staff work with the program participants’ parents, guardians, and if necessary, the entire family to help firm the young person’s foundation. Their work is the real deal. It’s what systems change looks like.