As previously mentioned, the five programs explored by the Youth Adult Capacity Initiative (case studies) are programs located in neighborhoods that are densely populated with disconnected youth. Even though they were successful in different areas of youth development, their impact could easily be drowned in these same communities if they are not able to effectively influence a larger percentage of the demographic in order to effect visible change. These programs and better ones should be replicated and funded, to exponentially increase impact. As such, the HEROES (Heritage, Education, Relationship, Opportunity, Entrepreneurship and Sports) model is a hybrid of these programs, inter-networked with the Liberty-LEADS model for catering to at-risk youth, through consistent positive engagement and support. In developing this model, the founders of Re:LIFE sought for successful strategies and plans that have worked at different programs, and through personal experience dealing with this population. This model was applied in the development of the Re:LIFE Reengagement Program for Disconnected Youth.
Understanding the HEROES Model is important to effectively implementing it:
Heritage: For many immigrants, who cannot communicate effectively in English, it is important to teach the appreciation of cultures and peoples. This creates a sense of community among participants, which could help retention rates, as well as enthusiasm to learn about other cultures and English language in order to succeed educationally and otherwise. One’s knowledge of their heritage has the ability to empower them, build confidence and pride, and excite learning. In order to successfully impact youth, it is imperative that they learn about their cultures, history, experiences and about heroes of their heritage who have or share similar journeys in achieving success.
Education: This is one of the most important solutions to curbing disconnection. As with the Liberty LEADS program, positively engaging disconnected youth six times a week, will keep them busy, expand their horizons and opportunities, as well as reduce crimes associated with being idle. This was constantly explored throughout all five case studies, and plays a crucial role in shaping policies affecting disconnected youth. However, many of these studies only engaged youth for three to five hours per day and three to four times a week. This still leaves room for a relapse back into activities and environments that encourage disconnection and crime. It is therefore necessary to explore and constantly implement new educational strategies that engage youth over longer periods of time during the day and week, with an incentive or rewards approach, that prove successful. This will involve understanding their interests, talents, skills and preferences, (e.g. music, dance, theater, spoken word/rap, photography etc.) and channeling them into their daily/weekly activities.
Relationships: As seen from the challenges of the explored programs, providing just GED and job readiness programs are not sufficient to thwart the effects of disconnection. One has to fully understand youth in order to effectively serve them. This involves, building a “relationship of trust” through counseling, one-on-one mentoring and creating an environment of trust to help foster success. Also healthy relationships teach these youth how to interact with other people, which is necessary for successful transition into society. As such, it is gainful to incorporate relationship-based classes like conflict resolution in the community, constructive debate and communication, anti-violence, community leadership and peer-mentoring classes. These classes could be offered in partnership with higher institutions to help students acquire certificates or diplomas as they go through the program.
Opportunity: It is necessary to create job opportunities for disconnected youth to help motivate them out of disconnection. This involves job training that could lead to career jobs, programs and incentives that would motivate students to explore different skills, talents and services that might enhance their opportunities. Rewarded internships, apprenticeship, vocational training and work-study programs must be part of a youth development program to help encourage and motivate youth in transitioning. As previously said, programs that involve the acquisition of certificates and diplomas for completed courses will actually make participants more marketable as they pass through the program.
Entrepreneurship: As an advocate of youth Entrepreneurship, I have learned that it is important that we teach youth how to provide for themselves through their interests, talents and skills they may possess. One of the major concerns for disconnected youth is earning a wage or making money. As such, teaching and coaching them to monetize ideas that interest them will help empower them, while encouraging them to diligently pursue other goals like education. There are several disconnected male and female youth involved in illegal business dealings, which if guided and taught how to, could create legitimate businesses that would provide for them and their families.
Sports: Physical fitness and nutritional health is very crucial in helping curb disconnection because most jobs that do not require four year degrees like construction, healthcare and transportation would require youth to be fit and in good health. As such, an effective program should incorporate nutrition and fitness training in its curriculum.
HEROES is a model that will impact youth positively and help curb disconnection because it is a hybrid of techniques that have worked in different programs, which are currently impacting minority, disconnected youth lives. The Re:LIFE Reengagement Program is one that ideally employs the HEROES model of success. With the proper funding and acquisition of the required materials, Re:LIFE will be able to positively affect the lives of disconnected youth in NYC and help revolutionize the socio-economic state of high-poverty communities like Harlem.