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, 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.
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).