By: Youth Advocates Program Inc (YAP Inc.)
Date Published: December 5th, 2018
New York (Dec. 5, 2018) — At age 37, Anton Cannatella speaks of a former Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. participant as he would a younger brother, nephew or even son. The young man, now 18, is one of many youth Cannatella has worked with since 2013 in his role as a YAP mentor-advocate in the Bronx.
“When I met him, he had just turned 16 and was referred to our program because of a robbery charge. His YAP enrollment ended almost a year ago and he hasn’t been in any trouble for 15 months. Now he’s immersed in an intensive auto mechanics training program. I’m proud of him,” Cannatella said.
On the heels of the release of a report on the effectiveness of YAP’s community-based alternative youth incarceration model, Cannatella, his Bronx co-workers and fellow employees across the state stand ready to assist youth impacted by New York’s Raise-the-Age law. Operating programs throughout New York, YAP is responding to requests to serve Raise-the-Age law-impacted young people across the state with commitments in Clinton, Ontario, Seneca, Sullivan and Wayne counties and an anticipated partnership in St. Lawrence County.
The evaluation, conducted by the Urban Institute, found that more than 90 percent of AIM participants avoided felony re-arrest within a year of enrollment, far exceeding the 60 percent target. Excluding truancy and other non-criminal probation violations, more than two-thirds of youth studied avoided out-of-home placement. Fewer than 10 percent of AIM participants received a juvenile felony adjudication and only 3 percent were convicted of a felony in criminal court within a year of completing their AIM program.
YAP, a nonprofit with a 43-year track record of successfully serving as an alternative to youth prison and out-of-home placements, serves nearly 19,000 youth and families in 100 communities in 22 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to its model being the program archetype, YAP was one of several nonprofits that implemented AIM during the evaluation period. YAP managed AIM in the Bronx, which represented 36 percent of the program participants evaluated.
The AIM evaluation included 229 participants in the program between September 2016 and March 2017. Of those evaluated, 77 percent were male; 81 percent were African-American, and 16 percent were Hispanic.
“At the core of YAP’s trauma-informed model is cultural competency, as racial equity is a key component to our approach,” said YAP Policy Chief Shaena Fazal. “The AIM evaluation is more evidence pointing to the effectiveness of YAP by demonstrating that it’s possible to keep youth from re-offending by serving them safely at home, in their communities.”
YAP hires advocates who live in the neighborhoods they serve who provide youth with intensive one-to-one mentoring. At the same time, YAP family advocates work closely with parents/guardians to design individualized toolkits that include connections to resources needed to help youth and their families succeed. At the center of the YAP model is helping people identify and tap into their gifts and talents to empower themselves to succeed in life and give back to others.
“Despite the exterior, [the young man in the mechanics training program] has a great heart; that’s one of his strengths. I first saw it shortly after I met him when I watched how he cared for his little sister and helped his mom out. Anyone who makes the effort to really get to know him seems to feel compelled to help him,” Cannatella said. “Later, I learned that another big strength of his is mechanics.”
In addition to counseling him “through drama and perilous situations in the streets,” Cannatella helped his YAP mentee transfer to a more appropriate school; assisted him with legal issues stemming from a charge related to defending a family member in a domestic matter; and recruited auto mechanics shops to hire the youth for two consecutive YAP supported-work internships.
Two weeks before his time with YAP ended in Dec. 2018, the owner of the second mechanic shop where he had held an internship hired him as a full-time shop assistant. Cannatella said this served as recognition of his talent, affirming his desire to pursue a career as a mechanic while providing financial support needed for his training program.