Camden, N.J. – YAP New Jersey recently celebrated 45 years of serving young people and families with a day of “It Takes a Village: Building in New Jersey, One Brick at a Time,” anniversary events.
“It wasn’t until my aunt introduced me to Youth Advocate Programs did I start feeling inspired,” said former YAP program participant Ronald, who credits his Advocate Kendall Sears with helping him make better choices.
YAP, a national nonprofit in 35 states and Washington, D.C., partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public safety systems to deliver unique evidence-based youth and family wraparound and behavioral health services in homes, schools and other community sites as safe, effective, and more equitable alternatives to youth incarceration and residential care. In recent years, municipalities have also used the YAP model to curb neighborhood violence.
Ronald plans to attend Hohokus School of Trade and Technical Science in the fall. “I was matched with an Advocate (Sears) that really invested time and energy into me. My Advocate encouraged me to think beyond my circumstances and always wants me to do better in life than what I experienced.”
On display at the anniversary event were art and poetry, in addition to performances by youth who expressed how their lives changed after the pandemic.
“It was wonderful for all of our staff, program participants and the community as a whole to come together to commemorate all of the strides YAP has made in servicing New Jersey for all these years,” said YAP New Jersey Director of Operations Stephanie Moore. “I want to thank all of the organizations who joined our anniversary event for their support, and I especially want to thank our staff who work tirelessly to change the biographies of our youth.”
Exceptional YAP staff were recognized during the program. Spencer McCray, owner of Walk Wit Em Socks, served as the guest speaker and YAP President and CEO Gary Ivory also addressed attendees.
“As YAP New Jersey celebrated over four decades years of providing alternatives to youth incarceration, residential care and out-of-home placements, I would be remiss if I did not honor YAP’s founder Tom Jeffers, along with all of the amazing staff who work hard every day to make sure our youth are safe,” Ivory said. “I can’t wait to see what YAP New Jersey does in the next four decades.”
In addition to serving justice and child welfare systems-involved youth and behavioral health program participants in the state, YAP recently launched YAP Pursuing Excellence, its five-county New Jersey Community-Based Violence Prevention Program partnership with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA). YAP staff in the program are “credible messengers,” many of whom were systems involved when they were younger, to work with youth identified as being at the highest risk of becoming engaged in violence. As part of their individualized services, participants receive on-the-job training, coaching, guidance, support, and mentoring with neighborhood-based businesses, with compensation provided by the nonprofit. Accompanied by their YAP credible messengers, participants attend weekly group Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) sessions.
In Essex County a year ago, YAP implemented a pilot program that provides individual and family wraparound services to adults leaving prison when their sentences “max out.” Many of the program participants served long sentences that began in their youth. The pilot is a partnership between YAP and the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC), which connects individuals to the program up to 180 days before their release date.
YAP was founded in Harrisburg, Pa. in 1975 and expanded to Camden, N.J. in 1978. The organization has programs across the Garden State in counties including Atlantic, Burlington, Gloucester, Mercer, Salem, Camden, Cumberland, Cape May, Essex, Union, Hudson, Bergen, Passaic, Middlesex, Morris, Ocean and Sussex.