Dauphin County, PA — Earlier this year, Dauphin County Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Clinical Supervisor Matthew Powery got a call from the mother of the first child he worked with when he started at the nonprofit back in 2014. At that time, the child was a second grader and as his therapeutic staff support (TSS), Matthew was helping the student learn how to express anger without throwing chairs, flipping tables, and tearing things off classroom walls. The call was an invitation for Matthew to videotape a surprise birthday message for the now soon-to-be high schooler who completed middle school with high honors.
Headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, YAP is a high-impact national nonprofit that provides community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, out-of-home behavioral health treatment and other congregate care. Matthew started at the nonprofit right after earning a psychology degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was looking for an opportunity to work with kids,” he said. “As a TSS, I was going into the community, in the schools, home environments, wherever we were needed.”
YAP, which has programs in 31 states and the District of Columbia, trains frontline employees to empower individuals and families with skills to recognize their strengths. The nonprofit’s model is based on connecting program participants with tools, which in some cases include basic needs resources, to help them achieve their goals.
After two years at YAP, Matthew knew he wanted to stay in the behavior health services field. Being on a part-time work schedule enabled him to set his own hours, which made completing a master’s degree in applied psychology at Harrisburg’s Penn State campus manageable. He was also already in place to complete clinical internship requirements for his advanced degree. Since joining YAP, Matthew moved into several behavioral health positions before being promoted to lead YAP’s Dauphin County Behavioral Clinical team.
“This is very meaningful work,” he said, speaking for himself and his teammates. “We value improving our community. It’s a challenging job. It’s baby steps; but it’s rewarding when we see people making progress.”
Matthew said the first child he worked with is a perfect example. He worked with the student for more than three years.
“You could tell this child was one of the brighter students; someone who needed motivation to harness their academic talent,” he said. “By the end of fifth grade, this student was taking pride in their progress; that was the most drastic change. By the time the child was discharged [from the YAP program], we were looking at a model student.”
In addition to working with children, Matthew has also provided adult mental health services. He’s particularly proud of a program participant who struggled to overcome cultural barriers to welcome tools he offered to cope with frequent panic attacks. When YAP discharged this program participant, 10 attacks per day were reduced to one a month.
Matthew is aware that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been questioning their career choices, even quitting their jobs as they look for meaning in what they do.
“This is really fulfilling work. If you’re working in other industries and you want to do something that’s more community-focused, you can come to YAP and harness that passion,” he said. “If you come in with an understanding that you’re not doing this job to get rich, it’s easy to stick to it.”
Matthew feels fortunate to have found meaningful work early on…. and a place where he’s happy to do it.
“Flexibility is a huge benefit of working here. You set your own schedule and there are no complaints when you need time for self-care,” he said. “You meet some of the best people who have great intensions and want the best for their community. I owe a lot of friendships to YAP and have met some wonderful people here. You find people who want the best for others, and that’s refreshing.”