Cheers and loud applause greeted ten young Baltimore men who walked across the stage and accepted graduation certificates.
It was not a typical graduation, but the Feb. 28 ceremony at Coppin State University still was special.
The graduates were ten youth who just one year ago faced the prospect of jail. Instead, they’re at home, in their communities going to school and work.
The graduation recognized their completion of YAPWORX, a new tool in the resource kit developed by Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a Maryland Department of Juvenile Services community-based alternative to youth incarceration.
Jasper, YAPWORX Graduate Testimonial
Jasper, 18, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, said he had been in and out of locked facilities prior to enrolling in YAP.
“Going back to school,” Jasper said, explaining what he’s doing now. “I’m in college,” he said.
Another graduate, Miguel, said the program changed his life.
“It was a good experience for me, it helped to keep me out of trouble, to keep my mind right and to learn to work on the outside,” he said, adding that he also learned how to wake up in a timely manner and maintain a daily routine.
The men worked with YAP’s Advocate-mentors who are trained to help them identify and realize their strengths while connecting them and their families with accessible resources and tools that help firm their foundation.
Baltimore counts among the 100 communities in 23 states and the District of Columbia that YAP serves.
YAP Advocate Tim Rich helped Jasper apply for a learner’s permit and supported him as he prepared for his GED exam.
Tim Rich, YAPWORX Advocate-Mentor
Rich and his YAP colleagues also walked Jasper through his community college application process and job search.
Through YAPWORX, Jasper got a job as a DJS Green Cadet and later, in security, where he leans on his YAP experience to deescalate potentially confrontational situations with compassion and positive encouragement.
Miguel was selected for a Hispanic Advocates project to apply his bilingual translation skills to support non-English speaking families during the Baltimore City Public Schools Middle School High School Choice Fair in December 2018.
He teamed with interpreters of Arabic, Nepali, French and Spanish languages and continues to develop his interpreting skills with his eye on employment with the Hispanic Advocates staff.
“Many young people who’ve been involved in the justice system are facing substance abuse, mental health and trauma-related issues that if not addressed and treated properly make it extremely difficult for them to complete job readiness program,” said YAP Regional Director Craig Jernigan.
“YAP’s uniqueness is how it builds relationships with employers, recognizing that some are hesitant to hire these young people.”
YAP has partnered for 44 years with youth justice and social services systems to give communities safe, effective, economical institutional placement alternatives.
Baltimore YAPWORX youth work in hospitality and food service, on DJS Green Cadets maintenance crews, and in positions with Baltimore Tree Trust (arborists); Reasonable Tech Solutions (cybersecurity); Michael & Sons (HVAC); Healthy People Juice Bar; and The Food Project (manufacturing and produce).
The YAP Supported Work program enables businesses to provide jobs while YAP serves as employer. It also makes it possible for neighborhood businesses like barbershops, startup entrepreneurs, print shops, and others to participate in YAPWORX.
“Through these partnerships, YAP provides individualized, relevant career information and experiential learn-work activities and helps youth invest in their social capital to make real-world-work connections,” said Baltimore YAPWORX/Workforce Coordinator RaEmaa Hill.
“Developing these connections is imperative, as it promotes knowledge exchange and spurs the discovery of mutual interests that support communities.”
Towson-based cyber security company Reasonable Tech owner James Mitchell, 39, worked for 15 years at Comcast and Verizon before being laid off in 2002.
Building his business was difficult as he struggled with limited income from small contracts while battling a heart condition and raising three children.
“Through those challenges, I learned to persevere,” he said.
Today, he has three offices, providing basic IT services, security, routing and switching, and tech training. Mitchell considers it his responsibility to provide opportunities to YAPWORX participants, saying it builds Baltimore City communities from the inside out.
“The first YAPWORX kid who worked for me told me when he met me at my office, he wasn’t expecting me, an African-American man, to be the owner He relaxed and wanted to know everything about the business.
“It almost made me tear up. It makes me feel great,” Mitchell said. “I showed him around; told him this place was completely empty when I rented it. I told him I wired this place up. He couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘are you serious?’ I told him never let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. When YAP Supported Work ends for these kids, if they decide technology is what they want, I’ll hire them and pay them as my own employees.”