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What a Difference an Advocate Makes

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What a Difference an Advocate Makes

Cuerpo

Opportunities aren’t equal

Access to opportunity in our country is obviously not distributed equally. Those raised at or below poverty levels are rarely exposed to the possibilities the more fortunate have in front of them. Nearly a third of children who are poor won’t graduate from high school. And, not surprisingly, roughly 80% of all males in federal and state prisons don’t have a high school diploma.

A child’s future can often be predicted by their current circumstances unless someone steps in. Youth Advocate Programs steps up.

46 years of advocacy

Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) is global, working in four countries, and 29 U.S. states, including Nevada. Created in 1975, YAP provides tools needed to lift individuals out of difficult circumstances. They know everyone needs access to safe places and positive connections to fully develop and reach their potential.

Neosha Smith, YAP Program Director/Workforce Development in North Las Vegas explains the organization takes a multilayered approach. “In Clark County, our main service revolves around those in the juvenile justice system. We’ll mentor those ages 11 to 18, help them get off probation, help them complete community service. For many, we become the caring big brother or sister they haven’t had.”

YAP is unique because their involvement is personal. They show up. “We go to the child’s home, we go to their school. We go to group homes and shelters. We work with parents, teachers and counselors,” says Director Smith. The goal is to keep them on a path to productivity and away from any encounter with the adult justice system. 

Programs also cover those ages 16 to 24 who’ve been released from juvenile or adult facilities. YAP will help them get records expunged, get a diploma, and get a job. A network of local businesses provide jobs they can do, and YAP provides the paychecks, insurance and workman’s comp. “They get exposed to real life working conditions, get treated like employees, and make meaningful contributions,” Smith says. She says successful outcomes are common. “A company recently asked if we could extend a young woman’s pay until she turned 18, so they could hire her themselves. That’s the best kind of validation.”

The Credit Union connection

SCE Credit Union has provided help to YAP in the form of checking and savings accounts. For many in the programs, it’s their first encounter with a real financial institution. “A debit card might be alien to them,” Smith explains. “SCE Credit Union has become our financial literacy friends; they put on seminars, give our youth the knowledge and encouragement they need to become fiscally responsible.” 

The Center for Financial Empowerment promotes financial literacy and is the Credit Union’s own nonprofit. There were plans for the CFE to put on Mad City Money events for YAP in early 2020. The in-person events are very effective simulations of actual life experiences. Volunteers play the roles of merchants and utilities while participants try to make ends meet with the make-believe budgets they’re given. COVID postponed those plans but Smith is hopeful there could be online simulations in the near future. 

Smith offers a compliment saying, “SCE Credit Union has really adapted their community altruism to fit our mission.” The YAP Mission is to “provide individuals…with the opportunity to develop, contribute and be valued as assets so that communities have safe, proven effective and economic alternatives to institutional placement.”  We find that easy to adapt to. 

You can learn more about Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. and their website here.