Galax, Va. – Sixteen year-old Kayleen credits her parents and Twin Counties Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. in Virginia with helping her become a more well-rounded person.
Kayleen had been living with Chris and Brandy Waller for a year before the couple adopted her in May 2022. The Waller’s have two biological children and have fostered 10 young people in the past two years after they saw a need to help youth in their community. Kayleen and one of the other children they fostered received support from YAP Advocates after the couple learned about the program from their social worker.
YAP, a national nonprofit in 33 states and Washington, D.C., partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to provide community-based services as a more effective and racially equitable alternative to youth incarceration and congregate residential placements. In recent years, YAP has also applied its Advocate model to provide services to help communities reduce neighborhood violence.
“I had never heard of YAP until I started fostering,” Brandy Waller said. “We were just very thankful that there was this program that could come in and take our foster children out for an hour to three hours a day to give them that quality time that we might not have been able to do. It helps them curb their anxiety and helps having someone there that just solely focused on them.”
YAP hires neighborhood-based Advocates who are trained to empower program participants to see their strengths while connecting them and their families to wraparound services that include educational, economic, and emotional tools to put their lives on a positive path and firm their foundation.
Through her social worker, Kayleen was paired with her YAP Advocate, Avery, who supported her and the couple that would adopt her. YAP’s main objective is to keep youth safely home. YAP Advocates are trained to provide services to program participants, their parents and families, and in cases where children are in foster care, their guardians, too.
“Our social worker will request a YAP Advocate if they feel like it’s needed,” said Waller who is a church children’s ministry director. “When our children did go with their Advocates their attitudes always improved. They could be having a bad day when they get home from school and then go with their Advocate and they come back and it would be like they reset.”
Waller added, “YAP is definitely a blessing. When I felt like I couldn’t give everyone that one-and-one time, YAP was there to help pick up where I couldn’t do everything.”
“My Advocate helped me not feel so stressful,” Kayleen, who is in the tenth grade, said. “We talk about things that I feel like talking about.”
Kayleen says she and Avery volunteered at an animal hospital, have been out to eat, took a trapeze class and to the pool. She is doing well in school, having earned A’s and one C in math, and is already making improvements to bring that grade up.
“We also went to this one bakery place and it was pretty cool,” Kayleen said. “I just like hanging out with her a lot.”
The Waller’s are thankful for the Advocates who have worked with their family, and for Emily Higgins, the Program Director of YAP Twin Counties, Va., whom Brandy says is “wonderful.”
Higgins says working with Kayleen and her adoptive family have been a “joy.”
“It was a privilege to see Kayleen flourish into an exceptional young lady by overcoming many challenges at a young age,” Higgins said. “She now uses her experiences to help support others in similar situations as they learn to overcome them. We are truly proud of Kayleen and the impact that she has made on all of us at YAP, and in the community, through her resilient, gentle spirit.”
YAP provides many individualized services, Higgins says, with the organization’s sole mission to impact youth and families by offering positive support like they’ve been able to do for the Waller’s.
“Teenagers need someone to just listen and as parents we don’t always want to listen; we want to lecture,” Waller added. “These YAP Advocates they listen, they don’t lecture like a parent would do. They’re very patient with people. I would recommend every teenager in the foster care system have an Advocate because they are hard, but they are so worth it. If you have that support system it makes things so much better.”
Kayleen is happy to be living with the Waller’s where she feels safe and loved, something she said she did not receive in other placements.
“I’ve really liked being here,” she said. “My other homes and placements weren’t the best. When I first came here I felt welcomed.”