Youth Advocate Programs , Inc. (YAP™) Empowered Kwasi Amponsa with Tools to Turn His Life Around; Now He’s Giving Back as a Member of the Nonprofit’s Team

    YAP Alternatives to Violence Program Manager Kwasi Amponsa.

    Charlotte, N.C. – At age 15, Kwasi Amponsa was in big trouble. His mom and stepdad at the time found drug paraphernalia in his closet. For them, it was the last straw.

    “I was running away from home, arguing with (my mom and stepdad) all the time and being disobedient and disrespectful,” Amponsa said.

    He became part of the child welfare system, living in a group home, 20 miles away from his family’s home in Elizabeth, N.J.

    “They released me to the care of the state. I was supposed to stay until I was 18 but every opportunity I got I would go out and sell drugs,” Amponsa said.

    Amponsa said things began to change when he was connected to Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP™) a national nonprofit in 35 states and Washington D.C. In its pre-50th anniversary year, partners with youth justice, child welfare and other systems to provide community-based alternatives to incarceration, group homes and behavioral health placements. Neighborhood-based YAP Advocates work with young people and their families to create individualized services plans that empower youth to make positive changes that keep them safely home with their families. Cities have also begun looking to YAP to combine its effective youth and family wraparound services model with evidence-based community violence intervention approaches to help curb neighborhood violence.

    When Amponsa found himself in dangerous situations on the Elizabeth streets, he called his YAP Advocate who would pick him up and take him away from where he was.

    “I could always reach out to an Advocate if there was some street beef going on and I felt like my life was in danger” Amponsa said. “It was good to be within an environment around people who could show me something different.”

    YAP Advocates were aware of the complex struggles Amponsa faced growing up and the associated trauma of being exposed to domestic violence, incarceration and family drug use. Amponsa gets choked up discussing the loss of his close friend at age 16 who died of gun violence.

    “It came to a point where I reached out to YAP because I wasn’t safe at all,” Amponsa said. “I was lost and there was a case worker who contacted my grandmother in South Carolina. They got me a train ticket and I went there in 1997.”

    Three decades later at 45 years old, Amponsa still lives in the Carolinas where he manages YAP’s violence intervention teams in Charlotte. As the YAP Alternatives to Violence program manager, Amponsa oversees the Beatties Ford Road and West Blvd./Remount Road teams that each have their own site supervisors, violence interrupters and credible messengers serving individuals ages 14-25 who are identified as most at risk of violence engagement. YAP connects individuals to “YAPWrap™,” economic, educational, and emotional tools as an alternative to violence. ATV is a partnership with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County using the Cure Violence methods.

    “I decided that I wanted to make a career out of helping people,” Amponsa said. “I believe in the YAP mission, its purpose and how its rooted in social justice. How many organizations are there that can say they work with young people and have a strong mission on systems change.”

    In his YAP role, Amponsa manages teams, many of them who, like himself, were formerly systems-involved. YAP ATV serves people who are at the highest risk of being engaged in violence, including individuals who are gang affiliated, recently released from incarceration, and those who have lost a loved one to gun violence and might be at risk for retaliating.

    Because of his own journey, Amponsa knows the road to redemption can be long and filled with potholes.

    Away from New Jersey and in new surroundings, Amponsa graduated from Fort Mill High School in Fort Mill, S.C. before enrolling in technical college and working part-time. He had a six-month-old daughter at the time. He was also still dealing drugs on the side and at age 20 was arrested during a sting operation for trafficking cocaine. He served 6 years, nine months and 18 days before his release in 2008.

    “When I got out my daughter was 7 years old. I went to work cleaning floors in a fastfood restaurant for $8 an hour,” Amponsa said. “It was really challenging because all my friends and peers were married and had houses. It was frustrating because I wanted to catch up.”

    Amponsa also worked as a personal trainer, was a partner of a fitness studio, worked in retail, was a director at another nonprofit and held a gig at a residential treatment center working with children and doing behavioral therapy before joining YAP in 2023.

    “I was always looking for opportunities at YAP,” he added. “I think those positive experiences I had with YAP when I was younger made it easier for me to remember as an adult the importance of having people that care for you and me to make a decision that once I was in a good position with my credit, a job, a house and a wife, that I had to help give back to people.”

    Amponsa recently received his associate degree in business administration and is working toward his bachelor’s degree. In addition to his daughter who is now 25, he adopted his wife’s 13 year-old son and together they have a 5 year-old.

    “I enjoy working with YAP ATV helping the community through safety initiatives and violence prevention,” he added. “My goal is to make a career with YAP and grow personally and professionally.”

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