WWL>Topics>>10-30-13 3:10pm Angela: on youth empowerment

10-30-13 3:10pm Angela: on youth empowerment

Oct 30, 2013|

Angela talks with Melissa Sawyer, director of the Youth Empowerment Project, about how to best reach children in the city's most troubled areas.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

We'll central sitting in New Orleans has long been the center of complete sadness. The numbers take your breath away because the numbers are people. Fewer than 20% of the kids there live with two parents. 25% of children live with the caretaker. Other than apparent. 50%. Of central city residents live in poverty. The murder rate there is four times the city average. As the rest of New Orleans has been living a revival post-Katrina. It's like central city is a dead zone. But that is not entirely true in part because of the efforts of the small group of highly motivated streak warriors. People whose primary function is to prevent the cycle of sadness in the young. And to give a hand up to those who have already gotten in trouble paid the piper and now must start again. They are members of the youth empowerment project. And they are saving lives. It may be the last great hope for central city. To talk about this incredible program is its founder malicious or -- And Jerome Jupiter who was director of education. And I cannot thank you both enough for being here. Four years. Four years decades when we have talked about poverty in the news or even on this program. I often say to myself. How do we begin to stop poverty crime this cycle. Of sadness. Not only for the people involved but for the whole community. And after reading so much about a program I honestly feel. This is the beginning of the answer. You really are attacking. It at its war. So without without -- and I would like you to tell me Melissa since you founded this how it all started. Wonderful and thank you -- Much for having Jerome. And me on your show today it's it's always an honor to be able to talk about our work in the impact that were having in the community and on the young people we serve. I was one of the founders of the youth empowerment project and we refer to ourselves as yet internally so I use yup yup I'm referring to him. And there are three of us who started yet. We all were were keen with the juvenile justice project of Louisiana and doing statewide juvenile justice reform mark. And we were really getting getting kids. Out of jail we were great at getting their sentences reduced and providing them with caring adults and really get attorneys and representation however we were not so good because there wasn't a planned. Of supporting and people when they came out and when they came back to New Orleans and during a nine month period before we started -- towards the end of 20036. Of the amen I was working it for shot and killed in -- morons and I think for us the constant holed about loss of life and potential and intelligence and and capacity and compassion and sense of -- in the ability to really contribute to our community. It takes a whole new and very deep in emotional level and the three of us really looked internally and decided that in order to really keep going -- We need to create a better future and create a program that's gonna provide these men. And women that -- young men and returning back to the region with the support of services they need. To be success and so. Back in 2004 we did a lot of research on evidence based best practices in juvenile reentry. And we got seed money. From a couple foundations and then we worked with the state office of juvenile justice and secured a contract and created the first juvenile reentry program in the state of Louisiana. So again you know we felt. -- and we were doing something out of need we had. An intimate connection with the people we are working with their families and we'd been working dealing juvenile justice work for a long time. And really really cared and wanted to provide an alternative to give these kids the sense of hope and skills and tools they need and so. We've maintained that contract and continue to work the scene opposite juvenile justice for the past ten years. And grown -- cents it's been an amazing journey and we are extremely fortunate to have them apart. You know -- Again I think all of us are diminished every time somebody is murdered in this town. And what she just said that the three have you had worked so long to accomplish so much within six guys into it. And at some point to go enough. This is just enough. You started this with crichton for almost 25 young men and I are working with a thousand kids right now that is what's mindful. In a relatively short period of time expanding from that program. Which are still doing on to others may be -- It's an incident. And so. -- -- -- I'm so. Yeah actually all of them programs that we started really started but needs in the community and again the reintegration program that Melissa talked about a tough election program and -- -- still -- -- And 2006. With so many youth returning from. Katrina. And not having schools through through our and to back into schools requirement that you summit summit different types of documentation. From so many used to hang and Alan Cohen is when they should have been school com. That's what started -- adult basic education and ged program is no play Cornwall and provide literacy or you. Started in 2006. Tom to serve 25 kids in central city who were out of school -- That grew come through fifty overnight took 300 the next year and now we serve about 800 -- Out of school you. Throughout satellites. And these are kids who are not in school correct. And they're not ever going to go back to school their working toward a GE. And is an all ages were there some common and they have a sixth grade level in there eighteen or. Right so bylaw they have to be at least sixteen years of age and we do focus on 1624. Year old but we have an open door policy. So any adult learn at least sixteen or older who want to come and receive services we took so we have some folks who. Or 25 and older some rather see students are fifty but the focus is on school youth between 1624. When you talk to people. What they sing to you about one. Out of some different reasons so. Some get involved in juvenile justice system. And then they return back and school wasn't a good place for them. Some get pushed out or expelled. Some electorally because there ovaries to under credited so it's not. Really always the best route for an eighteen year old who may be -- creative. It's not realistic for him to get a high school diploma in a reasonable moment in time equity. And it it is really interesting we try to do a lot of focus groups and get a lot of feedback from our young people to ensure we're creating programs that are really meeting their needs and against Iran's point every kid has their own story oftentimes you know their difficult stories and they've had challenges there and barriers that they have. Succeeded to push through it again we see it's very courageous step for young people to come back to us and to reenter after being unsuccessful. In the traditional school system and about 80% of our young people come to us by word of mouth on their own volition because they don't even want to find these yet they can't and again we feel good about that but that's testament about the quality of our work on our young people feel loved and supported and respected -- safe and a lot of the feedback we do get when we do our focus groups is I didn't feel safe in school I didn't feel respected. I wasn't learning anything. And oftentimes. Kids say it is the first time they've ever felt care for a they've never felt supported they've never felt like this is a place where they can actually learn and wanna come to and again that's what it's all about it's about our staff it's about the passion that they have a lot of they have the skills and a willingness to being nonjudgmental to meet kids were there out when they come through the door. And really just wrap our arms around these kids again then the whole plethora of services they mean. We also really do recognize that for cancer or young adults are even older folks have been unsuccessful in the traditional system. That there are circumstances of life that we need to help mitigate against additional supportive services and referral services and keys management services social work supports doing so. We really try to round robust programming. That is individualized and tailored to meet the needs of our students balance her that they have access to the opportunities they need with this of. Or they need to be successful. We are talking about the youth empowerment project stay with this as we continue a very important discussion. I'm Angela on WW well. We are talking with Melissa Sawyer who's the founder of the youth in. Empowerment project. And -- Jupiter who is director of their education section. This just started in central city everybody realizes central city has just many many problems. Poverty being. Right up there. Not as many parents need to be there and a lot of kids that are just walking the streets and ultimately end up in trouble. But it was what burst your. Empowerment group. To say we need to take care of these kids when they get out or they're just gonna recycled back into the prison system. Let this go back to some of the the real issues though of and again I don't wanna be -- don't either but I think as we all look at this. So much of it does start with family or the lack of it and when you give the numbers -- so so few of these kids won at two parents some having a quarter from having non. We're just a guardian. What. Doesn't mean that if you're -- you can't succeed many for people do. If you live in that situation and if you can't succeed many people do which ons are less. If you have those situations in your life. How do you start to overcome votes. So that these kids have a better shot. Yep we really believe that it's important to bring family and community together and that we recognize kids don't -- vacuums they live in families they live in neighborhoods they live in communities. And no matter how difficult families have had and I have never once not a parent who doesn't -- their child and doesn't want the best for their child. And doesn't do everything that they can within their own circumstances. To try to be the best parent that they can be and I think sometimes that's really hard I think. To ease it's too easy to from -- point the finger and say oh this is the parent should have been here but if you start backing up time. You look at what that young parent often times were doing with very young parents what their life has been like and they've got a lot of challenges that they attacked over com. And so I think again it's about trying to build the capacity and the strength in the sense of hope and ability to be a good parent and to be caring. Parent and sometimes parents just don't have time oftentimes parents -- single parent you're working 12 or more jobs. And that is because you're having to meet the basic needs of your family and so I think. We really have to make a shift in the as a community Italy keen not as families as the problem but as it's. An integral part of the solution and trying to build the strength and capacity of families to be stronger. -- and how -- we do I mean. You're absolutely correct and government apparently didn't want their child. But knowing how to parent is different so are their classes and these parents want to be better parents how can. As a community we help them. So yes and -- skills are are very important and we actually had to offer parenting classes for some parents. Generally. Women young women take most and some of -- some -- amendment to government as well. Com but again I think to a -- point I think you know. Comedies is very real and I think people face how many different -- and that the onus is on the community and folks like to really. Dem vote supports that they need to overcome. I was comedian again we rely really heavily -- on all of -- really strong community partners. Yup does a lot of things really really well there's a lot of things of that don't fall directly within our mission that we rely on our strong partners to provide. Ron Maclean who runs family services and -- moron wonderful has started enemies seen. Father program working with the young fathers to teach them how to have the skills they need to be more engaged and I know that. They are operating a lot of schools and they have a program and our and our community based learning -- also. So again I think we also really look at our community partners and who also doing amazing work oftentimes we will rely on. Friend that Covenant House or act happy reconcile for planning folks into the vocational. Training polite and so I think again it's about how -- we -- take care of the comprehensive needs of folks. And oftentimes they could be housing related they could be mental health issues they could be substance abuse related they could be a combination of many of those. It could be not knowing how to access. Early childcare education for your child and being concerned about not having access to programs for you feel safe if you're so. Transportation continues to be an issue and a real challenge. I think again it's about us trying to have the threat of of services available networks that we can help plug our kids into. And I just -- kids about their parents and their families and trying to help build. Stable homes were folks have a safe place to go and where they have the skills and they have the food and the resources they need to feel good about. Hypothetically let's say a young man for the young girl comes in and just walks into your facility and in and as you get to know him or her. All of a sudden her life is unraveling and you see the complexity of issues. Whether it be not having a parent around or not and apparently was functioning well. Or transportation are really a safe place to live. -- where do you began. To. To help that person so I think your first line -- has always believed in. No need to act of reach act if we are here and we can help you we want to do walked in the doors and -- and no play that -- room overseas in 20061. And that things that was really important to me. Was not to tell any child -- if they wanted to come in and to get an education to access his opportunities. So we didn't require. Birth certificates we didn't require any documentation. We really just wanted you to come into feel safe and to feel that people cared about you because too often these kids have had people telling them no -- you can't command are you have to come back in when you hear that over and over again. There really is disincentive to really come back through that door and you don't feel safe and you don't feel welcome and so we've really tried. To ensure that all of our programs the best of our abilities -- just come on animal work on getting you the documentation in the supports and things you need so. We have really highly trained staff we have our programs that have -- management and mentoring have social workers as well as youth advocates who do individualized service plans that young people. Going to -- trying to identify what their primary needs are and then either providing those services in house -- connecting them with our referral partners. And community agency referrals. Again we're very very hands on. But young people. Just like. Any young person it takes a lot to trust before you start really sharing what you're challenges are what your troubles aren't so. All of our programs are really relationship based and based on establishing that trust. That you need to have to feel all I'm safe by telling Angela this information and a lot of the participants are really hard experiences in many cases and we urges there detritus of tournament to mitigate them and to let him know that people of and drowned when you're working with young people try to get through GE d.'s. Because they didn't finish school that it. In other words what do you do to keep them motivated to carry on. So we drew a bunch of different things but to Melissa's partner owner the first thing to do is to really try to establish some report witnessed. I want -- to comment and feel very comfortable. We have a statement about. And then read to be real to -- taken assessments and the other thing that we really too original for so long students come through most of them have gone on average through tenth great. But we do an assessment of them -- that there actually functional much lower level. So. A lot of times they're just kind of pushed -- cracks all went along we really wanna meet students where there that's very important -- it does something that was missed. We need to address it right this laughter assessment we really need to focus on rebels there is a weakness well are we can focus on -- -- in the next -- We to a bunch of different incentives on real fun Fridays where students through different. That's community development projects to college readiness in college trips. Bunch of different. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- we have to. That's what it's about stay with us we're gonna continue our talks. About a very important program in central city and for the city of new Marlins but now let's go to the newsroom and chain rose. They started working with 25 kids now it's a thousand kids. In our community being helped by the youth empowerment project Melissa Sawyer and -- Jupiter our guest. And really talking about projects that are giving kids hope. Which ultimately gives this community because we're all connected that way. Before we start talking again we have a caller chuck if we could done that a comment. I am like. Yeah I just move people off and now when my favorite movies is trading places with -- back court and Eddie Murphy. And I -- it was about ten country club guy Eddie Murphy was a central city kids that really going nowhere gets in trouble all the time. Until the bat with some wealthy people they stalemate and switch places. And it was amazing the way historians full well from this central city kid who had no hope no future. Had some ownership had summary. He can't -- -- respect -- things and he realized that you know the value. Of the world around him and the people in the world around him. And the transformation was unbelievably started that is you know very. It was it was the it was the transformation Nikkei he needed or lose we -- So I think. A very difficult thing to accomplish because that's obviously you know fantastical and came to its trade places like that but. I think the more kids get ownership in their life in the world in the things around them they will become more responsible. How do you start that sounds like these guys you when -- sure they're doing a big step toward that type of thing. And they are chuck and I appreciate your calling comment very much because really which which is saying to -- about. Trying to keep kids motivated to finish the process of getting the GE. Absolutely. I wanted you to repeat something in the commercial about you know. This is all helping and it is beyond central city it is about the community. Absolutely so -- this city why again are. Our heart and we started in central city but we've expanded our our largest learning center is actually in mid city in we have several satellites across the city in. We except everyone from the greater Enron's region who wants to come and access one of our programs or to comment to further themselves and then. Hopefully to gain access and -- post secondary employment opportunities and again. That's really where we're attorneys into nature of that and you have a sense of hope for a better future but that they have access to the opportunities and the support. To make sure they know how to materializes it makes it become realities now. Absolutely tell us about the village program. The village program is I think are really really exciting program we right now have the capacity to serve -- important. Kids throughout the year it was designed to meet the needs of sixteen to 21 year olds who have either been pushed out or dropped out of school so the kids come to us as their primary education provider. They attend no play which is our educational program. They have we have to a meeting village teachers we have an all male village class upstairs and we have a co -- village -- downstairs. And then we have the support of services that are provided by used that -- Who are out in the community who are helping to providing people who supports bring them to different referral agencies make appointments for them work with their families. We also appearing instructors or assistant instructors and both the classes. Who are our own ged graduates so we've actually hired ten on our own ged graduates who are now back working -- yeah. In a part time capacity. -- role models and also encouraging other young people that hey you can do -- I that you can work here you can go to college you can be a success story. And our kids graduated I'm I'm that there really exceptional -- higher than the next monitors so. Kids can really see that there is opportunity for advancement and property tell me about those who have finished in how many. Not just gotten GD gone to college. So we currently have 46. Graduates who are enrolled in post secondary institutions. And some of them are at the community college level we also have -- -- universities. Including up to my name and loyal person and you know. We have a transition coach on staff who actually works with students as they transition from GQ to post secondary education. Which we realize is really key so. She does ECT prep. I'm we actually pay forty CT plus students take the EC team and that she follows them -- team reconvened them. Twice per quarter and make sure that they're getting and that they meet that they need to comment and need help with a paper. Or anything like that we recruitment -- that that happens as well. So. Stay with this we're gonna continue this very important talks. About the youth empowerment project right after this. The youth empowerment project is now helping upwards of a thousand young people in our community who need -- help on many levels. The started by Melissa -- and Jerome -- the director of education you now have. My -- 21 employs 28 full time compliance when he hateful and more time. And again you started with 25 and a small budget and now through grants etc. your -- on a roll. What have you art Melissa. I've learned. So much over the past ten years I think first and foremost not to take anything for granted and to be grateful for all of the privilege and opportunities that I can afford it. Also learned that we do I firmly believe each and every one of us have a responsibility to give back. And to help others no matter what that looks like and that looks like different people doing in different ways that fit them and their own personal circumstances but I do feel like. We have a responsibility as a community to help people. And their families who -- less fortunate I also feel that. Two off and the perception of young people our community is a negative one and quite the contrary is what I've seen over and over and over again when I've seen is thousands and thousands of people who want better for themselves. Who wanna have a better future who want to have access to opportunities. Who want to be happy who want to feel safe who want to feel loved and you really want. To believe that their future can be bright that they can contribute to make our city a better place and that's what I seen and I think that's too often what gets lost. Is that we see negative pictures and negative images. And that's honestly not the case for the vast majority and people can mean they want better and they they want to be successful. And as we see in -- absolutely correct. But what we are seeing of course our young black men killing young black man and that is heartbreak on every level. And yet. That stops just looking beyond the scene of many. Who are contributing who are trying to change who are looking for opportunities who are appreciative of the help you all are giving and other organizations. Absolutely you know -- we did a survey. About student who are 55%. African American males. I am a 100% of the students. Want better for themselves wanted to be on a career path one of the GT one entered -- had aspirations to go to college. And wanna take care of their kids so again is that the message -- images of of what we see the negativity. It's that's for some but these folks really do want more for themselves it's having that access and opportunity to overcomes these -- We'll be right that. This is Angela -- well. I guess the bottom line is this entire discussion news is that there is hope. There is a lot going on to help a lot of young people the -- power project does this all for free all these kids get all the help they do. And we just again as you say wrap your arms around them and that's what it is going to take in if you -- thousand people blush you. Let's quickly say that you can -- much more about this on the youth empowerment project dot org. Website. So. What's your hope for the future. My hope is that we can continue to thoughtfully. Grow bigger and to help more kids and more families to get on the path to adulthood that they want to be successful in contributing members of our community. And to be happy and to have access to opportunities that I've had in that so many others have had in that they can feel. -- their lives have meaning and that they have a sense of hope for the future that's what I really hope it's really and comes back the young people who. Truly are the future larceny and giving them the skills they need in the sense of hope and an accomplishment that they can they can take -- -- room. Simply put where we want our youth to be happier healthier and that's it. That's it that's it and that's what we want to be able to support commitment we we countered that those resources thank you for being with this we're gonna have you back. Now our news -- arrows.