Young parolees in YAP’s Re-entry Success Program aren’t just redirecting their personal lives in Hudson County, NJ. They’re also learning how to close what many employers are calling a serious “talent gap” in the American workplace. The gap is a lack of interpersonal skills necessary for all workers from blue collar to management (Two Sides of the Same Coin, 03/04/2014, www.forbes.com).
Relationships are key to successful re-entry and interpersonal skills are key to relationship building in the community and on the job,” Program Director Gary Hrynoweski explained. One tool used to develop those skills is Peaceful Alternatives to Tough Situations (PATTS), an evidence-based curriculum. Participants learn responsibility, self-control, forgiveness, conflict resolution and other interpersonal skills. They also learn to support each other.
PATTS skills transfer to real life situations, sometimes in unusual ways. Although getting fired from a job isn’t a typical milestone, Gary described one young parolee’s experience as a major step forward.
“After this young man was fired, he realized that he wanted his job back. He went to his employer, apologized for his infraction and was re-hired,” Gary said. “That was huge—for him and for us. We didn’t know he was going to apologize—he did it all on his own.”
The success of PATTS and other program components depends on having the right people to engage parolees, said Fred Fogg, YAP’s NJ Metro/Northern Director of Operations. Staff including Case Manager Juan DeJesus identify with the kids, gain their respect, share their experience and know how to speak their language, Gary added.
Youth are referred by the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC). Most are young men between the ages of 15 and 22. All have been incarcerated, have had serious infractions with the law, and are on parole. Most are returning to their home communities and living with a family member.
“They need jobs, but even more importantly, they need a support system,” Gary said. “The biggest challenge is developing a support system that keeps positive people around them. Our program does that.”
Key re-entry services are: Case Management, Supported Employment, Educational and Vocational Support and PATTs. The program also draws from other curricula including Casey Life Skills and Phoenix (gang intervention.)
Case management begins with weekly visits while the youth is still in a JJC facility. During this time, a trust relationship develops with the youth and an individualized re-entry plan is made. Initial community linkages include NJ DMV, Jersey City Medical Center, Hudson County Court and Probation Services, banks, employment fairs, employment agencies, schools, and other community resources.
Supported Employment (subsidized on-the-job training) is an important service that helps parolees gain experience and begin earning paychecks. To date, the program has developed over 30 worksites. The NJ Incinerator is a long-standing Supported Work employer that has helped young people get Commercial Drivers’ Licenses (CDLs), forklift driver certification and develop other skills.
“A battle we constantly have is that kids can make more money on the street than they can at a regular job,” Fred said. “But, these kids know that if they stay involved with the street the next step will be re-incarceration or death so they want to do well,” he added.
To keep young people motivated, re-entry staff emphasize the difference between a career and a job. “We tap into a kid’s passion for something and help them understand that an entry level job is their first step to building a career that they choose,” Gary said.
“Our staff and the support systems we help each kid build are constantly giving positive affirmation,” Gary said. “These kids have to have a belief system. They need to see beyond what happens in their neighborhoods or in Jersey City. They need to have hope.”
That hope is evident in the program’s successful program outcome numbers. For staff, it is the human stories behind the numbers that mean the most.
“AJ” graduated from the Re-entry Program just 4 weeks ago. Once caught up in the street, he is now looking for a way to help others.
“He wants to be a YAP Advocate,“ Fred said proudly. “He sent in an excellent resume, did great in a group interview, dressed appropriately and followed-up.”
“He did everything right—without any additional coaching from us,” Gary added.
“Our Re-entry Success Program is a prime example of how YAP brings kids safely home and keeps them there by providing needed services and helping them build lasting support systems in their very own communities,” Fred concluded.