Chicago, IL – In 1975, Tom Jeffers founded Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. in Harrisburg, Pa., reunifying hundreds of youths released from nearby Camp Hill prison with their families and providing them with individualized wraparound services to put them on a positive path. Thirty-six years later, YAP hired David Williams to apply the same service model to reunify kids in Chicago-area youth facilities beyond their release date with families previously unable or unwilling to take them home.
“A lot of people thought we couldn’t do it. But the YAP Wrap model works,” Williams said.
Thirteen years after hiring him as Chicago’s first Advocate, the national nonprofit distinguished by its YAP Wrap service model has named Williams Chief Program Officer. Now in 33 states and the District of Columbia, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, education, public safety, and other systems to provide services in homes and neighborhoods as an alternative to incarceration, congregate care, and neighborhood-violence. Consistent with its model, YAP uses zip code recruitment to hire Advocates, Behavioral Health staff and Credible Messengers to deliver culturally responsive services to young people and families at home and in their communities. YAP Wrap and other trainings hone YAP staff members’ skills as they work to empower program participants and their families to see their strengths, nurture them with accessible resources, and give back to their communities.
Williams said YAP recruited him from his job at Hull House Association, one of Chicago’s largest nonprofit social welfare organizations at the time. He said that’s where he first learned about the YAP Wrap model in a training delivered by Jeff Fleischer, who would later become YAP’s second CEO before retiring in 2022.
“At Hull House, I worked for Bill Ryan, who was also a consultant to YAP’s founding CEO and is still works with us today. Bill was on the team that helped bring YAP to Chicago,” Williams said.
Prior to his recent promotion, Williams served as YAP Executive Vice President of the West and held other leadership positions, including Regional Vice President, Regional Director, and Program Director. His new role comes as the 48-year-old organization launches a “Back to Basics,” initiative to ensure that as services expand, every program – Youth Justice, Child Welfare, Behavioral Health, School-based Services, Developmental Disabilities/Autism, Community-Based Safety, Emerging Adults, continues to adhere to the YAP Wrap model.
“Dave will work closely with regional leaders, the Support Center and national leaders to advance our mission,” said YAP President and Interim CEO Gary Ivory. “He will provide leaders support needed to firm up our infrastructure and work to ensure that our practices continue to align with the basic YAP model that for 48 years has set our outcomes apart.”
Williams appreciates the scope and importance of his newest challenge, saying he will do what has worked for him since he began his YAP career journey, leaning on wisdom gleaned from former leaders who mentored, guided, and encouraged him over the years.
“Minette Bauer was married to the founder, so working for her I learned a lot about the history of the company,” he said. “Steph [Hart] was entrenched in the model; she was also a key supporter who set an example for the importance of being surrounded by a great team, people whose hearts are in the right place.”
Among Williams’ biggest career accomplishments thus far is Choose to Change™ (C2C™), a YAP partnership with Chicago-based Children’s Home & Aid aimed at reducing the risk of violence among the city’s highest-risk youth. While YAP delivers its YAP Wrap individual and family wraparound support, Children’s Home & Aid provides weekly Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) sessions. Through a randomized controlled trial, University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab researchers have found that C2C™ reduces violent-crime arrests by almost 50 percent and increases academic engagement for participating youth. A year ago, YAP and Children’s Home & Aid began training other area nonprofits to deliver services informed by the C2C™ model, enabling nearly 1,000 young people to receive these violence prevention services.
Williams credits Chicago YAP staff members, many who were his colleagues from the beginning, for helping him achieve the outcomes that led to the success of programs he has led. He said among the office’s first YAP Advocates was the late Antoine McNutt. who died last year just months after being promoted to Program Director. Williams said he will continue to be inspired by McNutt, whom he met in 1992, soon after he returned to Chicago from the University of Louisville and began working at a youth center. Williams said McNutt, who was 13 at the time, looked to him as a role model as he leaned on his support to put his life on a positive track. McNutt earned football scholarships at Tennessee State University and the University of Illinois, got drafted into the NFL. and started his own consulting business before joining the staff at YAP.
In addition to growing programs locally and regionally over the years, Williams expanded his knowledge in the field, earning a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Reform from Chicago State University.
“Dave has proven that he can train leaders to communicate the importance of our core principals both to staff, community partners and YAP supporters,” Ivory said. “He knows firsthand that what differentiates YAP are our service delivery principles: no reject/no eject policy; neighborhood-based recruitment; never give up/unconditional caring; cultural and linguistic responsiveness; no refusal policy; individualized planning and strengths-based approach.”
Williams said in addition to his dedicated YAP team, he has a strong faith and family life. He said he realized soon after meeting Melody, who two years later would be his wife, that their meeting was destiny. “I took her to meet my aunt and it turned out that she knew my cousin, who had already told her about me a few years earlier.” He recalled his cousin asking, ‘Melody, don’t you remember when I gave you Dave’s football picture?’”
Williams said his wife has worked closely with him over the years to support YAP fellow staff members and program participants. A deacon at his church, he looks at every part of his life as blessed and connected. He said having the opportunity to be a national YAP leader is an honor and a way to help expand services to support youth and families in communities throughout the nation and globally.
“As a Christian man, my actions must speak louder than my declarations. In the end, my hope is that people will say, ‘Servant, well done,’” he said.
YAP’s decades of service 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 percent of YAP’s youth justice participants remain arrest free, and six – 12 months after completing the program, nearly 90 percent of the youth still lived in their communities with less than 5 percent of participants in secure placement. Learn more about YAP at www.yapinc.org. Follow the national nonprofit on Twitter @YAPInc.