Los Angeles, Ca. (December 3, 2019) -- Standing a block away from her Jordan Downs apartment in Watts, Abriana, 15, reflects on her life and its dramatic turn for the better.
“Before I thought I was just going to be a lowlife; like I wasn’t going to have a future,” she said.
Several months ago, Abriana spent a night in youth detention facing burglary charges. As part of her probation, she was connected to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.
“Now that I came to YAP, I know that I will have a future,” she said. Her eyes brightened as she spoke of her love of literature and interest in writing and nursing. “Now I know I will go to college; now I have the faith that I will.”
A community-based alternative to youth incarceration and institutionalization in 28 states and the District of Columbia, YAP recently began serving young people in South Los Angeles. Adhering to its “no reject; no eject” policy, YAP serves South Los Angeles youth through a partnership with Shields for Families. As more communities embrace social justice and child welfare systems reform and seek safe, cost-effective alternatives to out-of-home placement, YAP’s Safely Home model has been expanding globally. Founded 44-years ago, YAP has a time-tested model that matches individuals it serves with professional mentor Advocates who receive special training to empower young people to identify their strengths and connect them and their parents/guardians to accessible tools to achieve their personal, family and career goals.
Abriana’s YAP Advocate Kayla Alexander moved to South Los Angeles from the Bay Area four years ago to attend UCLA, where she majored in bio psychology. Alexander said it didn’t take long for her to see Abriana’s strengths.
“I could always see that she was motivated to be better and I think that us working together allowed her that space to do so,” she said. “I think sometimes in life its hard to see where you can be your best self and I think she saw it in her and I also saw it in her and working together, we’re able to bring out more strengths and like she said, see her in places she never saw before.”
YAP’s Los Angeles office is in Watts, two blocks from Abriana’s home. Like the youth the nonprofit serves, YAP Program Director Brandon Lamar’s childhood came with complex challenges.
“I was former foster care; I was former [youth] probation. In my first month in foster care, I had 27 social workers,” he said. “So, I never was able to get used to one person. Growing up in foster care; I dealt with abandonment. I grew up with neglect; I neglected myself. Being in this position, I’m able to help young people. There’s lessons that I feel I can teach,” he said.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Azusa Pacific University, Lamar began working with nonprofits that helped young people conquer their personal and educational challenges. At YAP, he’s looking to hire more neighborhood-based culturally competent Advocates to show youth, families and the broader community how the YAP model of providing intensive Advocate mentorship for young people and families can replace youth incarceration and congregate placement.
“YAP has a heart,” he said. “When I went to the [recent national YAP] Directors’ training, I saw the heart of everyone and the compassion they have. That’s what I’m all about. I wanted to be the person to help develop people to bring change to peoples’ lives and I feel like that’s the position I’m in right now.”
Los Angles YAP Administrative Manager Precious Lacy feels the same way and is encouraged by how Lamar matches each program participant with the right Advocate. She said her hope for the community is “to be more closely knit, holding on to what the community wants to bring and just holding on to one another.”
Prior to joining YAP, Los Angeles YAP Advocate Deborah Hawkins worked with youth in residential facilities. She said delivering services to youth and their families at home gives her more opportunities to encourage and give young people hope.
For Abriana, the hope provided through the YAP model has not only made a difference for herself; it’s been positive for her entire family.
“Before, me and my mom were struggling and I’d just be in my own world,” she said. “I changed. I feel like I’m going to have a future and I feel my mom – she gets more help and now she’s not stressing; and neither is my family or me.”
Alexander added that Abriana wants to be a role model for her four younger siblings.
“I’m just really being proud of what she is; she’s been through so much and I really see her being that person they can look up to and now I think she sees it too,” she said. “I think she was always great; now she’s able to really be great.”
To learn more about YAP, please visit www.YAPInc.org.
Los Angeles YAP Director Brandon Lamar with Advocate Kayla Alexander (front center); Administrative Manager Precious Lacy (left); and Advocate Deborah Hawkins (back)
Los Angeles YAP Advocate Kayla Alexander with program participant Abriana