A young job applicant was excited when she got a last minute call for an interview. Then panic set in.
After being involved with the Justice System, she had returned to her home community where she relied on the bus line for transportation. On this day, there was no bus to get her to the interview. With time running out, she called people she had learned to trust: staff at YAP’s Las Vegas Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Program.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be there,” YAP’s Assistant Director said. The young woman got to her interview on time and impressed her prospective employer.
YAP Program Director Nyeri Richards and Assistant Director Neosha Smith are accustomed to emergency calls of all kinds. YAP is currently the only WIA funded partner in Nevada that works specifically with the re-entry juvenile population.
YAP’s Las Vegas program takes on the tougher cases, often those that other agencies won’t serve. Many of these young people have experienced poverty, gang violence, low educational expectations, human trafficking and early parenting. Many were left to raise themselves at an early age, were guided by peers engaged in illegal activities, or were raised within the Juvenile Justice System.
YAP is responsible for finding young people to enroll in the program. WIA requires that they are ages 17 to 21, in poor economic circumstances, and have had at least one brush with the law. Young people connect with YAP through Juvenile Probation and Parole and often by word of mouth referrals among themselves.
“It’s not hard to find kids for our program,” Patty Rosati, YAP’s Southwest Vice President said. “A lot of kids are “couch surfers” moving from one friend’s house to another. They hear about YAP and they come in and say ‘Oh, you’re really here to help?’ And then they let us.”
An initial assessment helps young people determine their immediate goals and what they need to achieve them.
“Some kids say that school isn’t a priority and they want to work full-time right away. Others want to enter the military and others want to continue their education,” Patty said.
Many young people do not have birth certificates, social security cards, photo ID and other necessary documents. They are also disconnected from medical, mental health and other services. YAP helps them navigate procedures to obtain documentation, provides transportation to various offices and links them with community resources.
“Ours isn’t a 9-5 job,” Neosha said. “We don’t just put out a binder with a list of resources. Our hearts are in it and we do what it takes to help our kids succeed.”
“We work within WIA parameters but give it a YAP spin,” Patty explained.
The Workforce Investment Act of 1996 decreed that WIA funded partners are to use funds relinquished by the Department of Labor to assist youth in overcoming barriers to employment.
“YAP goes further than that,” Patty said. “We also tailor our support to the needs of each individual client.”
For a young woman named Ciera, YAP’s support is a pathway to a better life for herself and her child. After graduating from YAP’s Las Vegas Advocate Program, Ciera entered the WIA program for help in pursuing her goal of becoming a nurse. With a job at the Cannery Casino, a math tutor, and an award from YAP’s Tom Jeffers Endowment for Continuing Education, she is well on her way.
YAP also works with incarcerated youth while they are still in Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs)—some as far as 2 ½ hours away from the program office. YAP provides pre-release training, funded by WIA, to help prepare youth for employment when they return to the community. WIA funding also covers uniforms, GED and other costs including incentives for youth that are given in the form of gift cards.
For all youth, YAP offers 4-5 weekly classes and activities in the program office. Participants may bring friends and family members to the meetings.
Peaceful Alternative to Tough Situations (PATTS), an evidence based and SAMSHA approved curriculum, utilizes group instruction and role play to help youth learn nonviolent conflict resolution skills and take responsibility for their choices and behavior. YAP also offers Mommy and Me, Success for Teens, and tutoring courses.
On Fridays, staff work with youth on resumes and job search topics. On Career Day, youth visit community employers. A Career Fair, open to all YAP youth, includes vocational people and Probation. Youth are also linked with Go Green Training as preparation for jobs in environmental fields and other job training opportunities. Saturday is Community Service Day when youth help sort items in the Program’s donation room or participate in other activities that benefit the community.
Staff offer additional support that exceeds typical expectations. When necessary, they search for youth on social media, conduct home visits, and search the streets to keep youth engaged, focused, and using time productively.
YAP’s team is experienced, diverse and culturally competent. Patty, Nyeri and Neosha have all worked as YAP Advocates.
“Our staff are extremely dedicated to kids in and out of the YAP program,” Patty said. “Nyeri and Neosha both do a lot of pro bono work that benefits kids and communities.”
To date, two classes have graduated. “I love meeting kids at the office and going to the graduations,” Patty said. “They are awesome, special people.”