Program seeks to reach at-risk youth early
With that in mind, those behind the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) cast an eye on making a big difference in our local community behind the Community Based Prevention Program.
In 2012, YEP began that mentoring program in St. Charles Parish. It is designed to reach youth early and prevent them from becoming involved later on with the juvenile justice system. The program provides mentorship to children ages 8-16 who are considered at-risk. Participants receive mentoring, tutoring, counseling and other wrap-around services intended to help them succeed at home, school and their communities.
According to YEP spokeswoman Stephanie Hotard, the organization made more than 2,300 contacts with CBP youth, made more than 600 hours of school checks and provided over 1,000 hours of enrichment as result of the Community-Based Prevention program.
Hotard said that the group has two full-time mentors in St. Charles Parish and they perform a wide-range of tasks to help each pupil. Youths who participate in the program receive one-on-one mentoring, participate in field trips, receive tutoring and take part in groups discussing subjects like anger management. The youths may also receive individual mental health counseling as needed.
“If the child meets their goals, the mentor might take them on a trip as a reward,” Hotard said, adding that YEP works with the judges of the 29th Judicial District to receive recommendations of families that could be in need of the program’s services.
One of the program mentors, Sandra Washington of Destrehan, is a strong role model for what can be accomplished in the face of great adversity.
In February of 2003, the lives of Washington’s four children, Rachel, Samantha, Allen Jr. and Alandra, were lost in an automobile accident. The four were on their way home from a church gathering when something caused the vehicle to go out of control and into a canal.
Washington’s drive to help others began before she and her husband, Allen, suffered that tragedy. She earned her degree in social work and said that long before the accident, the vocation of helping others “chose her.”
“I want to show that no matter what, you can be a positive light for others to look to,” Washington said. “You can move forward. I want people to see me, know what I’ve been through, and know that there’s hope, no matter what you’ve been through. I want to be a reflection of hope.”
The program got off the ground in part thanks to financial support from the Greater New Orleans Foundation Coastal Communities Fund. When those funds were exhausted, however, YEP continued to receive financial backing for the program, this time via St. Charles Parish judges and the United Way of St. Charles.
Hotard said she’s been able to witness great changes in many of the youths participating in the program thanks to the intensive mentoring.
Washington said a big part of the program is introducing youths to a different world than they’re accustomed.
“We take kids to eat different places, places they’ve never been,” Washington said. “We’re there to provide support for them in the classroom. We want to expose them to new things and help teach them life skills. When you see them make that connection and begin to develop and apply those life skills, it’s the most rewarding thing.”
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