Hartford, Conn. – Tired of seeing children of color being misdiagnosed and misunderstood on what triggers certain behaviors is what spearheaded Veronica Maldonado’s life work of helping youth and young adults overcome obstacles to turn their lives around.
“I wanted to get educated and be a resource to families,” Maldonado said. “I wanted youth to have other resources aside from medication.”
Maldonado is director of YAP Hartford’s Credible Messenger program. She leads a team of five – an administrative manager, one full-time and three part-time credible messengers – also known as YAP Advocates, who deliver services to youth justice-system involved young people in homes, schools and communities as an alternative to incarceration and other placements.. Youth who are in the program are referred through the juvenile court system. Maldonado and her team play an important role as program participants and their parent and guardians work through the court and rehabilitative process.
“I attend all of my youths’ court dates,” Maldonado said. “For a judge to see someone in my position advocating for them is a plus. It’s important for both the judge and (program participant’s) family to see my face. My phone is on 24/7.”
YAP is a national nonprofit in 35 states and Washington, D.C., that partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public safety systems to deliver unique evidence-based youth and family wraparound services in homes, schools, and other community sites as an alternative to youth incarceration and residential care. YAP Hartford has served 16 youths and their families in 2022-2023. With “no reject; no eject” as one of YAP’s guiding principles, the organization accepts young people facing the most serious offenses.
“We have the hardest of the hard as far as program participants,” Maldonado added. “Right now, the violence in the city of Hartford is extremely high unfortunately.”
Born and raised in Hartford, Maldonado is a first-generation college student who earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees and has held several positions with other nonprofit agencies before coming to YAP when the Hartford program launched in July 2022. While in another role at a Hartford agency, she worked alongside current YAP Hartford Lead Credible Messenger Janita Negron for over a decade.
“Veronica and I definitely work good together,” Negron said. “I feel like she knows me well enough and believes in my abilities to work with the youth being that she witnessed it firsthand when we worked together prior.”
Maldonado and Negron and their teams have been engaged in heartbreaking turned inspirational stories that show the resilience of young people and how YAP credible messengers empower them. There’s the story of a program participant who was in a home where domestic violence occurred and he is able to deescalate situations that trigger him. He is now excelling in school and meeting his requirements for probation. Other stories include helping a young mother get a bed for her child and staying on the phone with a program participant who needed someone to talk to.
“I enjoy working for Youth Advocate Programs,” Negron said. “It gives me great joy to see people grow and learn how much of a positive impact I could have in their lives. Helping to save the future of our community is very rewarding and I take pride in being part of that process.”
Added Maldonado, “I feel like all our (program participants) are my kids. I don’t want them to be labeled.”
She said YAP’s reputation precedes itself with the organization’s success being well-known in the community.
“Our feedback has been good,” Maldonado said. “The youth are very engaged. Sometimes a lot of organizations in Connecticut work one-on-one with youth, which is amazing, however they don’t offer wraparound support like YAP does. Whoever is that positive influence in that kids’ life we try to work with them so when they’re no longer with YAP that support is still there.”
As for Maldonado, she would love to see the YAP Hartford program grow to assist even more youth and their families.
“To work for YAP, you have to want to make a difference,” she added. “I think the work we’re doing is valuable.”“
She said program participants and their families are fortunate that the state made YAP a resource and that the state is grateful that the agency is available.