Photo caption: William Verdier photographed with Newark YAP Director Robyn Dawson
Newark, N.J. For 15 years, William A. Verdier provided community-based services to dozens of New Jersey child welfare systems-involved young people who might have otherwise been in out-of-home-placement.
He served as an Advocate for New Jersey Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. YAP partners with youth justice and child welfare systems to provide a community-based alternative to youth incarceration and institutional placement.
Verdier joined New Jersey YAP when he was in his 60s after retiring from Frigidaire in Edison, NJ. He started his civilian career as a machinist after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. While YAP was a third career for Verdier, now 76, it has never been a job he took casually.
“Out of the 15 years, I gave all my kids 100 percent; and you know what I just realized? I never missed one day with any of them.”
YAP recently named Verdier its Northern Metro Region Diamond Service Award. It was one of many awards he has received from YAP over the years, but none has been as meaningful.
The award reads, “The true measure of success is the number of obstacles you overcome. Your diligence and tireless dedication to improve the lives of young people is an example to all.”
The service award comes as Verdier made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. No longer able to fulfill the physical requirements of the job, he announced his retirement.
“One day, when I went to get the mail, my pajamas were falling down and went I reached down to pull them up, I couldn’t catch my balance,” he said.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“My wife said time to give it up.”
Since leaving YAP a few months ago, Verdier has had a lot of time to reflect on his work at YAP and the youth he was able to work with in his time as an Advocate. YAP Advocates help individuals identify and realize their strengths and connects them and their families to accessible tools and resources to help them achieve their goals, firm their foundation, and give back to their community.
Verdier’s activism goes back to April 1968, the month that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He was among the 800 volunteers who took to the streets in Newark to cull unrest. The local paper even profiled him for his courage. The YAP job was a profession that enabled Verdier to do what he does naturally, take care of his community.
Reflecting on his years at YAP, Verdier recalls a time a 15-year-old boy he was working with told him that a group of bullies was harassing him. “I told him to catch the kid who has the biggest mouth when he’s by himself, without the others. I said, tell him that together they can surely beat him; but that if it happens, you’re going to catch him when he’s alone again and put a good whooping on him. The bullying stopped that day.”
Verdier said one of his most challenging and rewarding YAP experiences was one where he was assigned to every member of a family. The mother was struggling with mental health issues. There were four children; the youngest was five and the oldest was in her teens. Verdier worked with the family for more than a year and a decade later, has remained in touch. The older children are working and living productive lives; and the youngest is in high school living at home with his mom, who continues to receive health and other support she needs. The family recently invited Verdier to a family gathering.
Verdier has no regrets about his time with YAP; but does have some misgivings about having to leave his job without wrapping up his formal time with the last two kids he supported.
“I feel like I didn’t complete it. I’d told them, ‘I’m going to work with you guys till I can’t. I thought my sickness would take longer to take effect.”
“One was looking for love, acceptance,” Verdier said. “He was in foster care and was having trouble in school. He couldn’t count and couldn’t read well. When I met him, he had been stealing a lot; but I was beginning to make a difference. I got him involved with a few YAP programs and he was showing improvement in every area.”
The other boy was caught between a grandparent tug of war and had been acting out at school. “I got him a job. I’ll probably see him next week. He’s been working there for a year.”
Both kids are now working with other YAP Advocates. He just wishes he could have been there for them throughout the process.
But on the bright side, Verdier is able to spend more time at home. His wife retired in 2007. Having her husband home with her has been a long time coming. While Parkinson’s has slowed him down; it has not stopped Verdier from enjoying family activities with her, their two children, five grandsons, two granddaughters and four great grandsons.
Verdier’s YAP team wishes him the very best and feels grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. They also want him to rest assured that the two boys he last served are indeed in good hands. Afterall, in Verdier, his fellow YAP Advocates had an amazing role model.