April 26, 2019 (New Jersey) -- One night this past winter, Lynette Connor was heading home on the highway when she felt her tire rip. She had no doubt it was blown because she saw the big rock that came from the truck ahead of her and couldn’t avoid hitting it.
Fortunately, there was time for her to safely move over to the shoulder of the road and call her emergency roadside assistance company. It wasn’t long before she was met by a young man who arrived in a tow truck to change her tire.
“He was the nicest young man; very outgoing. He asked me where I worked, what I did – that kind of thing,” she recalled. “When I told him I worked for YAP, his face lit up and he said very excitedly, YAP! I was part of YAP. That organization did a lot for me when I was younger.”
Connor is New Jersey and Philadelphia Vice President of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. For nearly 45 years, YAP, has provided neighborhood-based Advocate mentorship to support young people who would otherwise be incarcerated or confined to other group care facilities. YAP empowers youth by helping them identify and realize their strengths while connecting them and their parents/guardians to tools that help them firm the family’s foundation. Connor is a licensed clinician who has worked for more than 30 years with the populations served by YAP. “These kids’ behaviors are serious cries – not for punishment -- but for help,” she said.
Chip Jones, 30, describes a childhood of domestic turmoil. He was the third child of five in a household in Atlantic County that was sometimes headed by his stepfather and at other times by his mom.
He remembers child protective services getting involved early on when his older sister was placed in foster care. That was his first experience with YAP. He recalls being able to get out of the house to go places with his Advocate and said for the first time, he was beginning to trust an adult. But by that time, he said a lot of damage had already been done. It was around the same time he had confided in a friend that he had been the victim of sexual abuse. He said soon, like his older sister, he too, was removed from his family’s home and put into foster care. He said the first stop was a shelter-like group facility.
“I was there from November to February. It was a few of towns away and during that time, I never went to school,” he recalls. He also never saw his family.
Jones said he was excited when his social worker told him he would be placed in an actual foster home – a therapeutic foster home, she called it.
Jones met his foster dad and said things were unbelievably great. For the next few months, he got new clothes, sneakers, access to a computer - every material thing a kid could want. It wasn’t long before he started feeling comfortable enough to share details about what led him there. Jones said soon after that, after his foster father returned home from a funeral, a new pattern of sexual abuse started – abuse that would last for the next three years.
During this time, Jones was acting out, mostly fighting in school. He was in and out of the juvenile justice system. He said his foster father was always there; telling him that because of the kind of kid he was, no one else would want him and assuring him that as long as he kept their secret, he would have a place to live with all the material comforts he wanted. “He said you better not say anything. He said no one wants you; if someone wanted you, you wouldn’t be here with me.”
Jones said as he got a little older, he met one of his foster father’s former foster sons who shared with him similar stories. It was enough to embolden Jones to tell his social worker what was going on. To his surprise, he was assigned a new social worker. After he told her what was happening, a third social worker took over.
By the time she scheduled a meeting for him to say what was going on, he said his foster father had coached him and convinced him that if he told the truth, no one would believe him, and he would lose his home and everything in it.
So, he lied and remembers that not long after, the abuse resumed.
By the time Jones was a junior in high school, he said his foster father moved. As luck would have it, he would be back in his old neighborhood with his former classmates.
Jones said his sister, who was back with the family, started telling people she suspected there was something not quite right with the relationship between him and his foster father. When he told her she was right and what had been happening, he said she confronted the foster parent. Jones got as many of his things as he could and ran away back to the family home.
The judge reassigned him to YAP. His Advocate was Robert Middleton.
“He was there when I was at my weakest. I didn’t fully tell him until after. He understood. He’s still there for me. He became a lifetime friend. There aren’t too many people you can call a friend for life.”
These days Middleton is a probation officer. Jones said he lost contact with Middleton when he was in his early twenties and ran into him a few years ago after a friend who he let live in his family home accused him of assault. (Jones maintains that he never assaulted the friend but was told by his attorney that by pleading guilty, he could get out of jail where he was awaiting trial and get placed on probation.)
Jones recently got laid off from his job with the tow truck company and is looking for work, which because of the criminal case, is not easy.
Jones often wonders how his life would have been different had he had enough courage to tell the truth the first time he had the opportunity to tell authorities about the sexual abuse. He said too much time has passed for him to do anything now because of the statute of limitations.
While he admits to still feeling regret, he said thanks to the time he spent with Middleton, he as able to see that it wasn’t his fault and that he is a good person with a lot to give.
“If it weren’t for Robert, I’d be locked up. I was out of control. I had so much rage when I met him. He showed me how to handle my rage. He said you don’t have to be mad at the world when the world is mad at you…every problem has a consequence.”
Jones’ relationship with his mother, who is once again a single mom, is stronger than ever. He and his younger sister are still with her in their five-bedroom family home where he now feels safe and secure, which during times like these when things aren’t completely settled, means the world.