Monroe, La. – Sh’Vante Williams will always cherish seeing young people get off drugs, get reenrolled in school and gain employment. They are celebratory moments that she has experienced while working at Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. in Ouachita Parish, La., where she now serves as Assistant Director.
“I had one participant who had 3-4 pages of charges on the docket ranging from a hit-and-run to other things; it was a lot,” Williams said. “But she just graduated from high school and is enrolled in college. I have another participant who came in with drug issues and she started off getting her GED but wanted to be in regular school. Right now she is drug free, has a job and is working on getting her cosmetology license. Things like this is what make me feel good; like this is what I’m supposed to do. I love being able to help young people.”
YAP is a national nonprofit in 35 states and Washington, D.C., partnering 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.
Thirteen youths, ages 11-18, are enrolled in YAP Ouachita Paris’s traditional youth justice program, which is designed to provide community-based services. Consistent with the nonprofit’s “no reject; no eject” guiding principle, YAP receives referrals from the Lincoln Parish Courts. The program’s three YAP Advocates and Administrative Manager (AM)/Advocate provide individualized support to program participants and their families, empowering them with tools to see and nurture their strengths while also providing them with services to help meet their basic needs.
YAP’s decades of service in Louisiana and across the U.S. include working with many young people whose histories include serious offenses, multiple arrests, and lengthy out-of-home placements. John Jay College of Criminal Justice research found 86% of YAP’s youth justice participants remain arrest free, and six – 12 months after completing the program, nearly 90% of the youth still lived in their communities with less than 5% of participants in secure placement.
While the Ouachita Parish program stands ready to serve youth with the most serious offenses and traumatic histories, those the team currently serves are fairly new to the youth justice system. In addition to Ouachita Parish, YAP Louisiana provides services in Calcasieu Parish; Orleans/Jefferson/St. Bernard/Plaquemines Parish; and Rapides Parish. Among its services are designed to follow-up with community-based justice-involved youth to make sure they are safely home and attending school.
Williams joined the organization three years ago after leaving her former position as a mental health professional. She began her YAP career as an Advocate, then became an AM, before entering her current role two years ago.
“I get to be the voice for our kids,” Williams said. “I get to help them and that has always been my goal. Some of them think they have things all figured out until they talk to us and get realistic people who have been through the things they’ve been through and that’s what keeps me at YAP. I get to get up every day and do something that I love. I treat these youth as if they were my own.”