They Once Faced Prison, Institutionalization, Poverty and/or Despair – Now They Have Scholarships, Life Tools and Hope - Article Details

They Once Faced Prison, Institutionalization, Poverty and/or Despair – Now They Have Scholarships, Life Tools and Hope

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An unconventional scholarship is helping some Clark County young people go to college, get vocational certifications or start businesses while overcoming some of life’s most difficult challenges.

The Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship is one of many tools available to individuals served by Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Founded in 1975, the nonprofit partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, developmental disabilities/autism, education, and workforce readiness systems to serve individuals at risk of incarceration, out-of-home placement or face other complex life circumstances. YAP Advocate mentors empower young people and their families to identify their strengths and help them build individualized toolkits to pursue their personal and professional goals.

Founded in 1975, YAP serves nearly 20,000 youth and families in more than 100 communities in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Aisha Phillips

AP_cropAisha Phillips knows firsthand how the YAP wraparound model works to give families voice and choice in designing a plan for helping children succeed. She was connected to YAP because of her son’s troubles at school.

“He received a citation for fighting,” she said.

The family began working with YAP Advocate Devonte Bess. Within weeks, Phillips began seeing a change in her son. His behavior changed at school and his attitude at home improved, too.  

“His whole life did a 360-degree turnaround,” she said. “By me having seven children, him having that male mentor is the best thing that has happened to us.”

YAP Advocates like Bess are trained to provide strength-based individualized family advocacy and mentoring – empowering youth and parents/guardians to identify and realize their strengths and connecting them to tools to help them realize their vocational, educational and personal goals.  One of those tools is the Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship. Clark County YAP Program Director Nyeri Richards remembers the expression on Phillips’ face when she learned that parents of youth served by YAP are also eligible to apply for the scholarship. “At that moment, a glimpse of hope came over her as she profusely thanked YAP for the opportunity,” she wrote in her letter recommending Phillips for the award.

Phillips learned she would be a recipient of the scholarship in time for the fall semester at the College of Southern Nevada. She accepted YAP’s option to use the $1,000 award to purchase a laptop computer. She is eligible to renew the scholarship application annually.

“My current goals are to start my own business,” Aisha wrote in her scholarship application. “I want to make a way for me and my children, so we don’t have to struggle anymore.”

Bailey Washington

As a high school freshman, Bailey Washington knew she wanted success but had no idea how to get on the road to take her there.  Washington’s school social worker saw her struggling with life challenges and connected her to YAP.  

“I cannot imagine where and what I would be if I continued on the path I was on.  I believe I am a totally new person,” Washington said.

Washington worked with Advocate, YAP Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) career coach Brittany Brown who connected her to jobs at Castaways Resale and Goodwill and spent time helping her identify and begin to realize her longtime career goals.

“Brittany took me to Sunrise Hospital, and I wore scrubs and was able to learn the ins and outs of working in the hospital as a nurse and different types of hospitals,” she shared.

Washington expressed her appreciation for YAP in her application for the Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship.

“If awarded the scholarship, it will help me pay for some of my needs in school such as on campus living and books and my tuition. I have no other means of paying for my college and anything help. This scholarship will help a lot.”

In summer 2019, Washington learned she would become a YAP Endowment Fund scholarship recipient, just before her freshman year at Dixie State University.

“These funds will help her pay for tuition for college and pursue her dreams of entering the medical field,” wrote Clark County, Nevada YAP Job Developer Vanessa Hassell.  “We look forward to seeing Ms. Bailey Washington succeed in the goals she has set.”

Cierra Gennes

CG_cropCierra Gennes was 17 with a two-year-old daughter and had recently given birth to a baby boy when she was enrolled in Clark County YAP’s WIOA program five years ago. She had not finished high school, didn’t have a GED and desperately needed a job. “I worked with my job coach on resumes and I also attended training classes. YAP helped me get my first job which was at Smoothie King,” she said.

It was a YAP Supported Work program, where YAP pays the wages and the employer provides training and experience. “The employer was so satisfied with Cierra’s work ethic she kept her as an employee for almost two years after her positive discharge from YAP,” said Clark County YAP Program Director Nyeri Richards. “It was there that she gained the necessary tools to retain employment and seek substantially higher wages – which is what Supported Work is all about!”

During her time with YAP, Gennes also began to work towards accomplishing her educational goals.

“For months, she continuously self-studied for her GED test. Down the line, Cierra wanted to tackle a personal goal many said she couldn’t achieve—she wanted to attain her high school diploma instead. I was so proud of her for bypassing the easier route and taking on more of a challenge” Richards said.

Richards and her team also helped Cierra study for her driver’s license, which she would also need for the job. With money she’d saved, she bought her first car and got her own two-bedroom apartment for her family. Years after she completed the YAP program, Gennes stayed in touch with her team, providing updates on her progress. In 2017, she contacted them for a different reason.

“This time she asked not to enroll as a client but to work as an Advocate. I was truly surprised. Seeing my perplexity, Cierra reminded me of a brief conversation she and I had years prior. One day, when Cierra was 16 years old, she asked me what she had to do to become an Advocate. Getting this question often, I casually responded, ‘You have to be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma, and a desire to help people.’ It was then I realized her entire individual service plan from the years 2013-2015 were based on the appreciation she had for YAP—she was molding herself to be a change agent,” Richards said.

“Cierra explained she always wanted to be like me and now meets the criteria to do so. I reminded her that it was her individuality, her love and devotion to her children and her drive to excel that helped her meet the criteria—not me. I then told her, ‘While trying to fit a mold, you didn’t realize you are a mold for so many other young children.’ She was an Advocate for some time before gaining full-time employment.”

Cierra’s new goal is to become a Juvenile Probation Officer. In spring 2019, she applied for a YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship, knowing it’s a resource available to anyone at any time who has been served by YAP. She’s using the $1,000 to supplement costs for her to attend Southern New Hampshire University.

“I will have my BS in Criminal Justice with a concentration Human Service in Fall 2022. With my degree, I plan to become a Juvenile Probation Officer and help community youth make better decisions. I plan to provide services that will guide troubled youth onto the right track to become successful adults,” she wrote in her scholarship application.

“Knowing Cierra’s strong spirit assures me there is so much more in store,” Richards said. “I’m excited to witness all the children to come who will one day casually ask Cierra how they could fit her mold. I just hope she too reminds them they are a mold.”

Bridger Adams

BA_cropBefore Bridger Adams connected with YAP, the best he hoped for from life was a job that would not bore him.

Things changed very soon after he was connected to Clark County YAP’s workforce development program.

“Bridger’s face lit up with pure joy, just talking about what he wants to do. Sitting there speaking with him, I could imagine how much better he would feel when he actually completed his career choices,” Hassell said.

Adams needed work experience, so YAP connected him with Goodwill.

“There I have learned the importance of paying attention to detail and learning responsibility of being on time and working very hard to hit my goal each day,” he said. “I have learned how to serve the customer and make sure the customer goes away happy.”

Adams expressed his appreciation for YAP in his letter of application to the YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship. He also shared concrete professional goals.

“If the scholarship is awarded to me it would benefit me by helping me achieve my dreams of getting training in culinary and baking classes at a cooking school so that I may continue to grow towards someday operating my own restaurant.”

In summer 2019, Adams learned he was the recipient of the YAP scholarship. He’s using it as a student at Culinary Academy of Las Vegas.

“It has been my pleasure to work with Bridger and help him to broaden his goal and plans for life,” Hassell wrote in her letter recommending him for the scholarship.

Chardanae Thomas

CT_cropWhen Chardanae Thomas achieves her goal of being an aesthetician and business owner, she will be more than prepared. With help from Clark County, Nevada YAP, she has begun her education at Expertise Cosmetology Institute where she is learning as much as she can about skin and how to care for it.

“I am very intrigued with skin care and it makes me happy when I am able to help others with problems they may have with their skin.  My aspiration in life is to own multiple businesses, one of them being a beauty salon,” she said. “I love to make and care for my skin as well as help others do the same.  A big step to owning my beauty salon is to graduate from school and to get the right credentials to succeed.”

Thomas connected with YAP after moving to Nevada from California without family or many resources, but with a lot of drive.

“She has gone above and beyond to prove she is ready to make major life changes and pursue training opportunities,” said Clark County YAP WIOA Director Neosha Smith. “Ms. Thomas is certain of the careers and success that she would like to pursue and came to the program with no doubts.”

Smith’s comments were part of her recommendation supporting Thomas’ application for the YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship. Thomas learned she would become a recipient of the YAP scholarship before her first 2019 semester at Expertise.

“Having help and constant motivation makes me strive harder and helps me keep going,” she said. “Having people that believe in me and that will help me along the way will benefit me in the long run. I plan to gain great success in my life.”

Smith believes Thomas is the definition of success and drive. “She is confident, motivated and overall dedicated to her hopes and dreams.”

Moises Marquez

MM_cropWhen Moises Marquez met his WIOA YAP Advocate and career coach Eric Brown, all he wanted was a job. But to get started, Brown told Marquez he needed to start with the basics.

Marquez said that’s exactly what he got, crediting Brown with being “very helpful with gas cards, information on jobs, helping me fill out applications… build my resume,” and saying he continuously kept him “thinking about my future as well as my goals.”

Marquez applied for a YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship to attend barber school at Expertise beginning in spring 2019.

“As a hardworking young man, Moises strives to come out on top and shares his accomplishments with his peers and family,” Brown said. “That shows character and integrity.”

Brown recommended Marquez for the scholarship.

“My goal is to enroll into barber school and become a licensed barber, and hopefully one day open my own shop. This scholarship will benefit me in more than one way; it will give me a career, help me achieve my goals in life, and help me better myself as well as my life.”

Marquez is completing the Expertise Barber Course and working as a barber assistant at the Sin City Barbershop 2, a YAP supported work partner.

Mollie McDonald

When Mollie McDonald enrolled in YAP a year and a half ago, she was a bit overwhelmed but focused on finding a way to support herself.

“I was out of my parents’ house, barely scraping by and looking for work any place that would hire an 18-year-old girl with no high school diploma.”

She connected with YAP the day she completed her GED exams. “Within one week I had been enrolled in the program, assigned my career coach Tiffney Lindamood, and began taking career readiness classes where we discussed subjects like interviews, time management and how to be a successful employee.”

Not long after, McDonald heard from an employer who’d received an application for a job she had applied to months earlier. What she didn’t have was anything to wear to the interview.

“Immediately Tiffney picked me up from my house and took me shopping for interview clothes, which I would not have been able to afford otherwise. When I told her that I wouldn't have the money to commute to the interview or back and forth if I got the job, she immediately gave me a 30 day bus pass so that I would be able to travel to and from interviews and the YAP office.”

McDonald got the job and soon began working for Soleil Management Group at the Tahiti Hotel as a front desk representative.  At the same time, she remembered the conversation she had with Lindamood on the way to her job interview.

“Tiffney and I discussed college. She explained the different ways YAP would be able to support me. She offered to help me complete my FAFSA and to help me get enrolled in CSN. She also told me about the Endowment Fund Scholarship in which I could receive $1,000 dollars.”

Thinking about the support reignited a longtime dream and the possibility that it might someday become a reality.

“Although I had always dreamed of going to college for four years and becoming an Aerospace Engineer due to my love for calculus, I always assumed it would be too expensive for me to afford,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay.  “Any amount of financial support would give me peace of mind and motivation to become what I've always dreamt of being.”

McDonald received the scholarship earlier this year and applied it to her first semester at the Professional Institute of Technology and Accounting. Her plan is to transfer to the College of Southern Nevada and ultimately complete her degree at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Neha Manoj

NM_cropFor Neha Manoj, YAP has been provided direction and other tools to help her as she takes steps towards her goal of becoming a doctor.

“The program has provided me with information and help to do the things I needed to do, like finding a job and volunteering opportunities,” she wrote in her application for the scholarship. “My main goal right now is to get into medical school, but there are many smaller goals along the way, some of them being finding a job that would give me medical experience and graduating earlier.”

Manoj applied for the YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship early in 2019. She used to supplement her earnings and financial aid towards her out-of-state undergraduate college tuition. It’s one of several tools she added to her YAP toolkit.

“I needed someone to guide me to reach my goals and I found that here.”

Sydney Washington

When Sydney Washington applied for and learned that she would receive a YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship a year ago, she had already made great strides at turning her life around.  She had been getting services from her YAP Advocate, career coach Yadirra Ramos.

“I was introduced to YAP and all the wonderful people in it, through my two younger sisters who were already in the program. I had just gotten out of a really bad situation and I needed help,” she said.

Ramos empowered her with practical life tools and guidance to help her see life beyond where she was.

“YAP got me into their system and assisted me with a state ID, and clothes for a new job I had gotten. They set me up for success and still checked in on me when I got the job to make sure I didn't need a bus card or anything; and when I did, they dropped one off at my job.”

She’d already enrolled in college when she applied for the YAP scholarship.

“I've been through so much in the past year and now I just want to focus on getting a degree and that is what this scholarship will help me with,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay.

Beyond making a living, Washington is determined to get more out of life and to give back.

“Her demonstrated leadership and vision have made a positive impact,” Ramos wrote in her letter of recommendation for Washington. “I have no doubt that this will continue at the college she is now attending.”

Tierra Williams

TW_cropTwo months after she began working with Tierra Williams, her YAP Advocate, career coach Yadirra Ramos recommended her for a YAP Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education scholarship.

Ramos helped Williams with her resume, and it wasn’t long before the young mom was working.

“I was able to get a job very quick through the program,” she wrote in her scholarship application.

Williams was extremely grateful but needed and was determined to work for more. “My goals are to successfully graduate college and pursue my career in sociology,” she said.

YAP awarded the scholarship to Williams in time for the 2019 spring semester at the College of Southern Nevada.

“This scholarship will most definitely help me a lot because I do have a child and providing for her is not always easy, I struggle a lot financially and with the scholarship it will most certainly take some stress away.”

For more information about YAP, please visit


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