Middlesex County, NJ — This month, Middlesex County, NJ Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. hosted an open house for a new program aimed at curbing youth violence. Middlesex County is one of five counties in the state where YAP is implementing the New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program through a partnership with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
“The open house was not your traditional open house but a drop-in where you could come in to meet, greet and have a bite to eat. The event was to let the city of New Brunswick know we are here to help serve our community,” said Program Director Emanuel Shumate. “Our kids are just as excited to have us here as we are, and we have just begun to scratch the surface. The YAP Zone has finally arrived. It is our safe haven for our youth. We welcome them with open arms and a giant heart.”
In its 47th year, YAP is a national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public safety systems to provide community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate residential placements, and neighborhood violence.
In YAP’s news release announcing the program, New Jersey Lt. Governor Shelia Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of DCA said, “The Department of Community Affairs is pleased to provide continued support to Youth Advocate Programs. In New Jersey, we have established ourselves as national leaders and understand what it takes to stop the vicious cycle of mass shootings and everyday gun violence. The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program is critical, especially at a time when gun violence still claims the lives of too many of our residents. In addition to passing commonsense gun safety laws that work, it’s programs like this that positively impact our youth and their families by providing tools to help them connect to appropriate resources and opportunities in their community. We remain committed to making New Jersey a safer place to live.”
“The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program implements principles that form the foundation of YAP’s evidence-based youth justice model. – employing neighborhood-based Advocates to provide intensive individualized services that empower youth and families to see and build on their strengths to bring positive change,” said YAP National Director of Violence Prevention Fred Fogg.
Through partnerships with neighborhood-based businesses, participants take part in YAP Supported, Work employment, receiving on-the-job training, coaching, and mentoring, with compensation through the program from the nonprofit. The youths also attend weekly group Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) sessions.
“These therapeutic sessions are designed to address the kind of adolescent trauma associated with violence,” Fogg said. “Additional group interventions can include the use of restorative Peace Circles or elements of the Peaceful Alternatives to Tough Situations curriculum.”
Researchers from the Rutgers University Department of Psychology and the Rutgers School of Social Work are working with YAP to evaluate the effectiveness of the multi-site program. Investigators will track program participants’ school attendance and behavior, youth justice system involvement, and other risks associated with violence.
The New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program serves young people, ages 12-18, in Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Middlesex and Ocean counties. Credible Messengers, YAP employees with lived experience — some of whom were formerly incarcerated — will provide program participants with ten hours a week of trauma-informed individual and family wraparound support.