(Jan. 21, 2021) – This month, Gary Ivory starts his new job as president of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a national nonprofit giving communities alternatives to incarcerating and placing young people in residential treatment facilities. The new role is a promotion that comes 30 years after the former prison chaplain and son of East Texas farmers joined YAP as a frontline youth Advocate. Ivory’s passion for social justice is rooted in Pittsburg, Texas, where as a child, he lost three of his 14 siblings to prison.
“I am honored, humbled and excited to step into the role of president of YAP at such a pivotal moment in the organization’s growth and our nation’s history when social justice is undergoing much-needed transformation,” Ivory said. “As systems look to replace outdated institutional justice and social services with safer and more racially equitable community-based alternatives, we will continue to strengthen our model, back it with more data and enhance our training. It is imperative that we attract and increase the sustainability of donors, grow more strategic partnerships, and lift our voice to tell the success stories of those we serve. I look forward to leading these efforts,” he added.
YAP partners with youth justice, social services, and other systems in 29 states and the District of Columbia, employing and training neighborhood-based Advocates to provide community-based youth and family “wraparound” services as an alternative to youth prison and other out-of-home placements. As more communities embrace reform, YAP is experiencing noteworthy expansion, in large part due to Ivory’s work to present the organization’s evidence-based model to systems leaders and funders. For him, YAP’s mission to equip young people who would otherwise be institutionalized with tools to be assets to their communities is personal.
“One of my brothers, Theodore – we called him Sonny, was 15 or 16 when he assaulted a guy in the cotton fields. My understanding is he was protecting my mother from abuse by a White overseer. The guy died six months later,” Ivory said. “[Charged as an adult] Sonny got a life sentence in a prison in Huntsville. When I was in junior high, he was dying, and they released him. But they sent him back a couple of years later on a parole violation. After serving 20 years, he died during my senior year in college.”
The experience with Sonny and the incarcerations of two of Ivory’s other brothers, was a dark cloud that hung low over the family. “What happened to Sonny and the associated racialized trauma we all experienced had a big impact on my life in many ways,” he said. “It made me want to help young people -- to fight for justice. My faith has fueled my commitment to seek justice for those who are incarcerated and to prevent young people from being incarcerated in the first place.”
YAP’s trained neighborhood-based Advocates help young people identify and build on their strengths while supporting their parents/guardians with tools and basic needs resources to firm the family’s foundation. Based in YAP’s Dallas office, Ivory, who previously served as Senior Executive for the national nonprofit, manages business and fund development, strategy, marketing, communications, finance, legal and other key executive leadership functions. Ivory will also retain management of YAP’s Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education. In honor of the national nonprofit’s founder, the fund has relied primarily on employee giving to provide career training and college scholarships to thousands of YAP participants and their families during and after their program participation.
Jeff Fleischer, who joined YAP in 1985, and has led the organization for the last 18 years, will remain as chief executive officer, and will shift his focus to policy and advocacy work, fundraising, and strategic partnerships across the nation.
"Gary has worked 30 years with YAP, changing hearts and minds across the nation, convincing stakeholders to disinvest in detention, prisons, and out-of-home residential placements and to invest in a robust community-based continuum of care,” Fleischer said.
Before joining YAP, Ivory served as a chaplain in the role of youth minister at New Jersey (formerly Trenton) State Prison. He is a graduate of Austin College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1996, Ivory was one of ten national leaders awarded the prestigious Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Family Fellowship, an intensive and highly selective executive leadership development opportunity.
For more information on YAP, please visit www.yapinc.org.