New Jersey YAP Program Participants Overcome Obstacles to Pursue Dreams

    Jesse with YAP Middlesex County Community Anti-Violence Director Emanuel Shumate.

    Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education Will Help Ease the Financial Burden

    New Jersey – Four former New Jersey Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), participants recently received scholarships to further their education through the nonprofit’s Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education. YAP is a national nonprofit in 35 states and Washington, D.C., that provides community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, residential care, and neighborhood violence.

    Ronald and Rayvon from Essex County, Hailey from Morris-Sussex County and Jesse from Middlesex County, N.J., will use their scholarships for tuition to pursue their secondary education. Ronald plans to attend Hohokus School of Trade and Technical Science; Rayvon and Hailey will enroll in Sussex County Community College; and Jesse started classes at Universal Technical Institute in July.

    “When I go to college, I want to get my Associates degree in psychology from Sussex County Community College, and then get my bachelors in psychology from William Patterson University,” Hailey wrote in her scholarship essay. “I hope to get my master’s after that and work in the FBI.”

    The Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education is named after YAP founder Tom Jeffers and helps support current and former program participants and their families who are pursuing post-secondary education or training. YAP scholarships can be applied to school tuition, fees or supplies, job training costs, or in the form of a laptop computer. The fund is supported by YAP employees who generously donate voluntarily through payroll deductions.

    “I plan on going into the (automotive) industry because of the love I have for cars,” Jesse wrote in his scholarship essay. “Once I graduate and become an entrepreneur and certified in my trade, I aspire to one day be able to give back to my community.”

    Jesse was referred to YAP’s New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program, also known as YAP Pursuing Excellence™, through his probation officer. The program spans over five New Jersey counties and is a partnership with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Participants take part in YAP Supported Work™ employment with neighborhood-based businesses that provide on-the-job training, coaching, and mentoring, while receiving compensation from the nonprofit. The employment readiness program is among the tools available to YAP staff as they deliver individualized services that help program participants see and nurture their strengths. As part of the program, Jesse also attended weekly group Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) sessions designed to address violence-related trauma.

    “The program provided me with a job, that at the time is something I was struggling to do,” Jesse said. “Supported Work has given me work experience which has created a steppingstone for more opportunities. I get along with my co-workers and I love my job.”

    Rayvon was a participant in the nonprofit’s Outreach Diversion program, where he was paired with YAP Advocates who connected him with economic, educational and emotional tools, and encouraged and supported him to make better decisions.

    “I got involved with YAP to receive guidance from the Advocates and to open my eyes to unseen opportunities,” Rayvon wrote in his scholarship essay. “The program taught me important life skills, as well as how to build better social and school connections. My goal is to college and play football while majoring in physical therapy.”

    Ronald credits his YAP Advocate Kendall Sears who he views as a father figure for helping him change his viewpoint on many things.

    YAP Program Participant Ronald at prom.

    “It wasn’t until my aunt introduced me to Youth Advocate Programs did I start feeling inspired,” Ronald wrote in his scholarship essay. “I was matched with an advocate [Sears] that really invested time and energy into me.”

    Through Sears, Ronald met other youth in the program and said he was encouraged to follow his dreams of becoming a welder.

    “[Sears] took me different places, which allowed me the benefit of opening my mind to the fact that I had options in life and that I did not have to become a product of my environment,” Ronald added. “I am really encouraged to change the cycle of my family.”

    YAP Advocate Kendall Sears and program participant Ronald.

    YAP Outpatient Clinician Shannon Schierenbeck has been working with Hailey since October 2022 and says she demonstrates traits of kindness, honesty and has a willingness to learn and grow.

    “Hailey has expressed a passion for forensic psychology and continuing her education since I first met her,” Schierenbeck said. “I am confident that receiving this scholarship will be essential to helping her achieve her goals, as she will be paying for college on her own. Hailey has a lot to offer, not only to the field of forensic psychology, but also to her community.”

    YAP’s decades of service include working with many young people whose histories include serious offenses, multiple arrests, and lengthy out-of-home placements. John Jay College of Criminal Justice research found 86% of YAP’s youth justice participants remain arrest free, and six – 12 months after completing the program, nearly 90% of the youth still lived in their communities with less than 5 percent of participants in secure placement.

    Learn more about YAP at and follow the organization on Twitter @YAPInc.