Prescott, Ariz. — Ten months ago, 15-year-old Tucker could never have imagined being where he is now – off probation with his friends, family and Prescott, Ariz. community members celebrating his achievements.
Tucker recently completed services at Yavapai County, Ariz. Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. YAP is a national nonprofit in 33 states and Washington, D.C. that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to deliver evidence-based services in families’ homes and communities as an alternative to placement in youth prisons and congregate residential care facilities.
“Before all this, I used to get angry really, really quickly. Since all this has happened, it doesn’t happen as often,” Tucker said.
YAP hires neighborhood-based Advocates who are trained to empower program participants to see and nurture their strengths while connecting them and their parents/guardians and families to educational, economic, and emotional tools to strengthen the youths’ foundation.
Tucker had been on probation for more than a year when he became a YAP participant.
“I met a young man with very little impulse control. Not a good sense of physical and personal boundaries and anger issues. There was also a lot of fear and insecurity with being on probation,” said Tucker’s former YAP Advocate Eric Schulze.
Yavapai County Juvenile Probation Department began referring youths to YAP in 2020 after receiving a program startup grant awarded through the Safely Home Fund, a YAP partnership with Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform. YAP received an Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Title II Formula Grant in 2021. That funding enabled YAP to serve 10 youths through October 2022 with the Arizona Community Foundation covering costs of serving two additional program participants.
In the nine months that Tucker was in the program, Schulze spent time with him and his family in their home. He also met with Tucker at school and took him bowling, hiking, and kayaking with other program participants.
“I was getting out of the house and doing stuff. When you’re on probation you’re stuck,” Tucker said.
Schulze saw Tucker eagerly learning new skills while also taking time to motivate and build up his peers.
“It’s been encouraging to see him take on new opportunities,” Schulze said. “He has always had an amazing sense of humor and has known he operates a little different within the world. And he’s ok with being that different person and letting himself shine.”
As Tucker began focusing on his strengths, Schulze encouraged him to take advantage of tutoring and other learning resources at his school.
“This year, I’m doing the best in school than I ever have,” Tucker said. “I’m really good at math. It’s been my best subject – that and homeroom.” Tucker describes homeroom as “a family within a family,” where his classmates shared with him his excitement of being off probation.
Schulze also connected Tucker to the Prescott Valley Park Collective, a community nonprofit, where he satisfied his community service hours and stayed on through YAP Supported Work, where program participants earn income while getting on-the-job experience.
“One of the people I worked with – his name is Coach – it used to take him an hour and a half to clean the playground,” Tucker said. “With me helping him, it takes 45 minutes. It made a difference for him because he got to go home early. You get joy with helping people. I personally try to make everyone feel better.”
Earlier this year, Tucker learned that a planned promotion for his Advocate was put on hold when some anticipated program funding didn’t come through.
“I kept nagging her [Yavapai County YAP Program Director Patty Delp] to give it to him,” he said.
While embarrassed by Tucker’s campaigning, Schulze was proud to see that after months working as his YAP Advocate, the tables had turned with Tucker advocating for him.
“The magic in our model is its simplicity,” Delp said, adding that nine of the 12 youths receiving services over the past year successfully completed the program requirements and all celebrated major milestones.
“These kids are coming to us from the system, and we start our work by looking underneath the trauma that came before the acting out,” Delp said. “These are not bad kids; they’re young people who have had a tough go at it.”
Tucker’s former probation officer Dan Lammers was among those attending his YAP graduation. “We can work together to help kids that are in the system, and the system is not bad or overbearing when the right resources are used to assist in helping our kids move forward,” he said.
Tucker is completing his fall semester with good grades, work experience, a driver’s permit, and new respect and admiration from his family, friends, and community. Meantime, Schulze has been promoted from Advocate to Program Coordinator; and Delp is pursuing funding so that the program can continue serving justice-involved Yavapai County youth for years to come.
Learn more about YAP at www.YAPInc.org and follow the organization on Twitter @YAPInc.