Charleston, S.C. – When William Cameron joined Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. more than 15 years ago, he was looking for a job with sustainable outcomes that addressed all the needs of young people; educationally, emotionally, and economically.
“I’ve worked in group homes and independent living programs and those places of businesses provided something for young people, but it wasn’t all that they needed,” Cameron said referring to youth needing care after they were discharged. “I was looking for something that could really benefit young people. You could build youth up until a certain point, but when they needed to move on, there was not anywhere for them to move on to.”
YAP is a national nonprofit in 32 states and the District of Columbia that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, intellectual disabilities, and other systems to provide community-based alternatives to incarceration and congregate placements. Youth are provided with a neighborhood-based YAP Advocate or mobile behavioral health professional who helps them and their families with services they need and connects them to accessible life tools. It is common for the nonprofit’s employees to stay in contact with the youth they serve long after their time at YAP has ended.
Cameron’s first job with the nonprofit was in Pickens/Greenville County, S.C., where he oversaw the YAP Behavioral Health program for 13 years. He helped grow services, increasing participants from seven to over 30. In 2019, he moved into a YAP Youth Justice program role and began laying the groundwork for his vision of bringing wraparound services to Charleston, S.C. to help address a growing need that he knew YAP was uniquely qualified to help solve.
“Charleston is a very wealthy area, ranked No. 1 in the world as far as tourist attractions, but also has crime and gang violence — in Charleston and North Charleston,” Cameron said.
He did research and learned that there were many city leaders, public health experts and philanthropists who shared his vision. Cameron set up calls and meetings and solicited support.
Today he serves as the Program Director for Charleston County YAP, which recently partnered with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to implement an evidence-based violence intervention program called Lowcountry Rising Above Violence. MUSC was awarded a $1 million grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice to implement the program.
“I am very excited because this is something that was overdue for that area. This new YAP program is a great opportunity for this area and the hospital to help decrease violence,” Cameron said.
In addition to interrupting violence, Lowcountry Rising Above Violence will mediate conflicts, help prevent retaliation, and provide individual YAP Advocate wraparound services and street outreach.
“Mr. Cameron has been a relentless champion to help implement evidence-based violence intervention programming in the Charleston and North Charleston area. I met him before our MUSC Turning the Tide Violence Intervention Program was even started – we formed a bond over the need to implement hospital and community violence intervention programs that have demonstrated success in reducing violent injury recidivism and retaliation and that help at-risk youth and young adults gain resources to improve their lives,” said Ashley Hink, M.D., a trauma surgeon who also serves as the medical director of MUSC’s Turning the Tide Violence Intervention Program. “When I found a funding opportunity through the Department of Justice to support these efforts and complement our hospital violence intervention program through community-based work, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to potentially get this initiative off the ground with William and others from YAP. Not only does YAP have a long track record of success in violence prevention, but the organization is committed to hiring and training people within the communities most impacted by violence to do the actual work.”
Born in Charleston in a family of 10, service is in Cameron’s blood. His father was in the military. While Cameron spent most of his life in North Carolina and South Carolina, the family traveled and moved a lot. Cameron’s educational background includes speech communications and special education, both of which help him in his work at YAP. He’s worked with students on the autism spectrum and individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“William Cameron, affectionally known as Mr. Never Give Up, embraces the YAP motto of doing whatever it takes to positively impact the lives of today’s youth and young adults. William is a pleasure to work with,” said LaVeisha Cummings, YAP’s Tri-State Regional Director. “He is easy going, he puts his heart and soul in the work we do here at YAP, and he’s pretty hilarious, too. I am elated and overjoyed to have such a champion for change on my team.”
Cameron has hired the new Turning the Tide team, which is undergoing training to begin their work in Charleston and North Charleston in the next few weeks.
“This work is important to me,” Cameron said, reflecting on how structural disparities have contributed to neighborhood violence. “We have young people who live 20 minutes from the ocean and have never been. There is a lot of teaching and education that we have to do in these communities.”
Learn more about YAP at www.YAPInc.org. Follow the organization on Twitter @YAPInc.