Advocates for Alternatives to Youth Incarceration and other Congregate Care will Soon Have a New, More Authentic Voice to Help Advance Systems Change - Article Details
13Jan

Advocates for Alternatives to Youth Incarceration and other Congregate Care will Soon Have a New, More Authentic Voice to Help Advance Systems Change

A national nonprofit that provides community-based services as an alternative to locking up and institutionalizing young people will lift its most authentic voices to have a deeper impact on policy. Two frontline Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. leaders will head the launch of YAP Voice Champions, a global platform for program alumni to provide testimonials on how they have benefitted from the organization’s 46 years of game-changing services.

Chicago-based YAP Program Director E’Ron Leveston and Lexington, Kentucky-based YAP Program Director Ashley Randall will work with their colleagues across 32 states, the District of Columbia and partner global organizations providing community-based youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, intellectual disabilities/autism, and violence interruption services. YAP employees provide trauma-informed, culturally competent Advocate and behavioral health services. Program participants receive wraparound services that connect them and their families with accessible trauma-informed strength-building tools to achieve their emotional, educational, and economic goals.

“I was an angry teenager; I did all the things these YAP kids do. I pushed boundaries, I lashed out and tried to push people away,” said Randall, who suffered the impact of childhood trauma. She said she experienced sexual, physical, and emotional parental abuse and that after several years, she went to live with her maternal grandfather before he died two years later. Randall said a couple she babysat for then received guardianship of her for three years before she got pregnant at 16 and moved out on her own. "I have wanted to tell my story for a long time to help other people tell theirs.,” she said.

“I want to be a torch bearer to be able to lend my services in a way that allows their light to shine,” added Leveston, who grew up in a traditional two-parent household. He said he was motivated to help others as a child observing his mother, a speech pathologist working in schools and hospitals with children with disabilities. “It’s an epiphany for me to say that my mom was a speech pathologist and we’re speaking about voice. My mom passed 11 years ago, and it’s been my life’s work to continue her vision.”

Leveston said his mother was a constant source of inspiration to others, recalling a pivotal moment when she encouraged a young man who was recently released from the NFL and volunteering as a mentor to Leveston and his brother to pursue a career as a youth advocate. Years later, that former mentor, who had gone on to become a staff Advocate for YAP, was there for Leveston after he graduated college and was looking for a job. “He brought me to YAP; he took a chance. He said, ‘I know you weren’t doing this kind of work, but I’m going to take a chance on you because your mother helped me.’”

Randall and Leveston will design the new program, working with their global colleagues and the YAP Voice Champions Committee, chaired by YAP Chief Executive Stephanie Hart, to develop recruitment avenues, training tools, and opportunities for the YAP Voice participants to lift their voices to advance systems change.

“I want to congratulate Ashley and E’Ron as well as Stephanie and her committee on leading this extremely important opportunity for YAP alumni to advance social change” said YAP President Gary Ivory. “Our goal is to empower alumni to share their stories through trainings, conferences, presentations, policy, advocacy, and other events.”

Leveston and Randall believe that the voices of youth and families are the most powerful among those advocating for social change.

“To help them raise their voice to help people on their same street, in their same neighborhoods -- that’s very powerful. To be able to magnify that is huge. It’s huge to start small to make an impact globally,” Leveston said.

“We want to change the world, isn’t that why we do this?” Randall added.

Learn more about YAP visiting YAPInc.org. Follow the YAP on Twitter @yapinc.

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Kelly D. Williams,
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kdwilliams@yapinc.org

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