Monthly Archives: June 2011

Bringing Together Diverse Methods of Re-engagement: The HEROES Model Part I

There are a number of nonprofit and community organizations that provide different services aimed at empowering youth—from health, to education, to criminal justice, etc. Some of these organizations offer more than one service and have succeeded in impacting youth more effectively than others. In order to successfully resolve the problem of youth disconnection, it is important that effective programs be identified and supported. This will help allocate funding more efficiently as well as increase the impact of these programs. The Young Adult Capacity Initiative (YACI) conducted case studies a few years ago to explore the effectiveness of five programs located in New York City neighborhoods that are densely populated with disconnected youth. Re:LIFE is based upon the HEROES model of disconnection—a unique model that incorporates the findings of these studies by merging successful tactics of other youth reconnection programs and avoiding their mistakes.

The Youth Development Institute (YDI) funded five community-based agencies in NYC’s highly concentrated “disconnected youth” neighborhoods to create programs that would address the needs of this demographic. YDI saw the need for programs that would assist young adults in finishing their education, learning basic occupational skills, finding jobs and learning the skills and attitudes necessary to keep the job. In addition, they included that these programs needed to provide a range of services beyond GED classes and help with resume writing and interview skills. The five programs established by YDI included Cypress Hills Youth LEAD, East Side House Settlement, El Camino, Sesame Flyers International, and New Heights Neighborhood Center. These were the programs YACI examined in their case studies.

Outtakes From the Case Studies:

Case 1 (Brooklyn) Cypress Hills Youth LEAD (Learning, Educating others, and Achieving Dreams) Program:

This was an initiative within the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) in East New York. East New York is in eastern Brooklyn, a part of Brooklyn plagued with high crime rates and violence, high disconnection rates, poverty and low educational attainment. The Cypress Hill LEAD Program initially provided GED preparation classes, weekly employment workshops and social events. It later added a job readiness workshop and counseling aspects of youth development. The main challenge of the Youth LEAD program as indicated by its operators was addressing the high level of support needed by their disconnected youth population. According to some of the staff, they believed that they were only “scratching the surface” of what services they needed to offer. Of the 430 young adults who enrolled in the program since its inception in 2002, 87 registered for the GED, 75 took the exam, 45 received their GEDs and 95 have obtained a job. While there has been some success to the program, its success rate could be better.

Case 2 (Bronx) East Side House Settlement (ESHS):

This was the second study, located in Mott Haven, the Nation’s poorest Congressional District. Its population has very high unemployment rates, low graduation rates and very high disconnection rates. The emphasis of the program at East Side House was on relationship building with youths and retention strategies.ESHS incorporated activities like having students call fellow absent classmates, changing their orientation process, providing counseling and making referrals to other programs if needed as techniques to improve student retention and success rates. Their major challenge was in understanding the needs of this demographic in order to effectively support them. Of 262 students in 2005, 37 took the GED test and passed, 33 obtained jobs. Once again, 37 out of 262 is a low percent success rate.

Case 3 (Harlem – Upper Manhattan) El Camino (the Path):

El Camino was a program at The Harlem’s Children Zone (HCZ) in Central Harlem. Central Harlem is one of New York City’s most poor neighborhoods, with a child poverty rate of 39 percent and plagued with several social ills like poor housing, domestic violence, child abuse, failing educational standards etc. Regular attendance to the GED program was a major problem for this program. Being that its disconnected youth had been out of school for longer periods of time, it affected their attendance rates. Also, having an open policy system of admittance made it difficult to effectively cater to students at a consistent rate and diluted the educational effect of the system. Even though HCZ has been nationally honored for being one of the country’s “most effective and innovative community-building and youth development organizations”, and has achieved great success with in-school youth, the director of the program admitted that their original projected outcomes for the program were entirely unrealistic and did not reflect the reality of what it means to work with this population.

Case 4 (Brooklyn) Sesame Flyers International (SFI):

SFI is a nonprofit organization that operates various cultural, recreational and educational youth development programs in and around the Greater East Flatbush community in Brooklyn. It was founded by Caribbean immigrants to offer their children a place and an opportunity to learn about their cultural heritage. The program instituted at SFI was tagged “Get R.I.C.H”, (meaning Reaching Individuals to Change Humanity). The goal of the Get RICH program was to expose youth to different employment skill-building workshops and one-on-one employment counseling. Furthermore, SFI provided programs such as social and recreational activities (basketball and dance), GED classes, a youth employment program, counseling by case workers and peer support. They met three hours a day, four days a week. During these four days, participants got to meet with staff members once a week. They were trained in job readiness skills, resume building, job search skills, interviewing techniques and computer training. They also instituted a Career Make Over cycle of thirteen weeks—six weeks of training and seven weeks of job searching.

According to SFI, their biggest challenge was defining their target population for the Employment Program because according to them, “there were many subgroups embedded within the disconnected youth group”. The Get R.I.C.H program had only delivered services to 33 youth after the completion of their second Career Make Over cycles. They averaged 8 students per cycle per location, for which success data was not released.

Case 5 (Washington Heights – Upper Manhattan) New Heights Neighborhood Center (NHNC):

NHNC is located in Washington Heights/ Inwood section of upper Manhattan, and has the largest enclave of Dominican immigrants in New York City.The Washington Heights region of upper Manhattan houses a community also plagued with high disconnection rates, unemployment and gang violence. The goal of NHNC was to establish a working relationship between disconnected youth and local businesses in the area. It’s main challenge as it identified was understaffing, and the return of students who were seeking educational, instead of employment goals.

Unfortunately, while this organization succeeded in establishing relationships with local organizations for the benefit of their youth, it seemed to be more centered on providing menial jobs and employment for students, instead striving to educate them as well. Sometimes there is an underlying belief that the youths are not really “cut-out” for education, so instead of “wasting time” trying to persuade or encourage them, finding them menial jobs is deemed a better route to results. As reported by YACI, of 487 students served by the end of 2005, 167 obtained jobs, 207 enrolled in a GED program, and only 28 passed the GED exam. While any success is good, the educational component of this program was dismal, and calls into question the long-term benefits of the program.

The HEROES model for success stands for Heritage, Education, Relationship, Opportunity, Entrepreneurship and Sports. One problem of the five case studies and their results was the fact that most of the programs dealt with one or at most three aspects of the HEROES model. This in turn translated to referrals (if done at all) to other programs. The negative implication of this is that youth might get discouraged if the services at the referred program fall short of warming or effective. Another problem was the lack of an effective tracking method. The inability to track students, who even though they obtain their GED might need help obtaining work or applying to college, dilutes the effort invested in helping those youths in the first place.

Also, the pressure to raise adequate funds by many of these organizations resulted in a redirection of focus for many of them. In a bid to stay afloat financially, programs gradually start to treat participants as statistics/data necessary for fundraising, instead of individuals with colluded problems in need of help. This problem is the main reason why many students are increasingly being cared for at a minimal rate. The provision of GED classes and some job readiness program have become the threshold for measuring success of disconnected youth services, which unfortunately have done little to resolve this enormous and growing problem.  This is why the implementation and duplication of the HEROES model cannot be over-emphasized.


Filed under Entrepreneurship, Global Youth, Re:LIFE Inc, ReLIFE, Youth, Youth Development, Youth Empowerment

The Significance of Youth-Mentor Relationships

Despite challenging circumstances, such as poverty, it has been recognized that some young adults are able to make a successful life for themselves after high school.  They are able to avoid the problems that can arise from their economic status or social position like delinquency or unemployment. Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that youth-mentor relationships play a crucial role in this phenomenon.  Mentors, especially those within the community, help youths stay focused on their goals and avoid the potential difficulties associated with the transition into adulthood.

The Adults in the Making Project is a program that is aimed at helping rural African-American youths transition to adulthood. They conducted a study to explore the effectiveness of youth mentorship. It consisted of 345 African-American participants ages 17-18. It measured their progress over the course of a year and a half through interviews with the youths themselves, their mentors, and their parents. The study was conducted within eight counties in Georgia that are among the highest in the nation in poverty rates— Baldwin, Butts, Elbert, Hancock, Morgan, Putnam, Twiggs and Wilkes. Unemployment rates there are also above the national average.

The youths were not assigned mentors, but were allowed to choose a mentor from the community. However, the mentor could not be an immediate family member or live in the youth’s home, and he or she had to be at least 5 years older. In several mentorship programs throughout the country, the mentor is typically unfamiliar to the youth and comes from outside sources. One of the things that the Adults in the Making Project kept in mind was that a mentor does not have to be a stranger. They wanted the youths to really look at the people within their community and see how they could potentially help them better themselves. The mentors would already know a little about the youths and have an investment in them.

This study exposed that aggressive and delinquent behaviors and substance abuse was reduced when the youths had a mentor to provide them support and help them deal with their problems. This correlation was even stronger for those who were experiencing hardships in their everyday lives. Steven Kogan, one of the researchers stated that, “If the youths had some bad things going on in their life, including being treated badly through discrimination or different family stressors, it was particularly helpful for them to have a good relationship with a mentor.”

Young people do not always have people in their lives to turn to for help or support for a number of reasons. A good parental figure is one of the most important factors for positive youth development and unfortunately a number of people grow up without one. This lack of guidance sets the stage for youth disconnection and a number of other problems. Therefore, having somebody outside the family to help one set goals and maintain self-control is a huge compensation for the lack of parental guidance. Kogan says, “The better the youth-mentor relationship was, the less likely the young adults were to be acting out, breaking rules or being aggressive when they were 19 or 20.” Mentorship is a great tool for young people to possess especially when they are experiencing hardships in their lives.


by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology


Filed under Youth

Bullying Behavior As A Result of Absent Fathers

Bullying has become an increasingly popular topic of discussion in the media, among scholars, and ordinary people alike. With the suicide of Rutgers’s student Tyler Clementi and other cases of peer harassment, people have begun to ask the question, “What leads to bullying and how can we prevent it?”  As mentioned in previous blogs, good influences are highly important for positive youth development to occur. Parental influences especially are a crucial factor in the development of youths and Psychologist Andre Christie-Mizell decided to explore the relationship between bullying and the amount of attention youths receive from their parents.

Behavior is driven by one’s perception of the world. If youths feel that they are not receiving enough attention from their parents, those feelings will have to be expressed elsewhere and usually it is through interaction with peers. Christie-Mizell’s study sought to answer, “What is the relationship between the number of hours parents work and adolescent bullying behavior?” and “What is the relationship between bullying behavior and a youth’s perception of the amount of time their parents spend with them?” He classifies bullying behavior as being cruel to others, being disobedient at school, hanging around kids who get in trouble, having a very strong temper and not being sorry for misbehaving.

The results of this study were shocking because they defy the conventional idea of which parent has the most influence on a child’s development.  Christie-Mizell himself began his research with the thought that the mother’s work hours would have the most impact on whether children exhibit bullying behavior. In patriarchal societies, it is the mother who has the greatest responsibility of caring for and monitoring the children. However, he discovered that bullying behavior increased when fathers spent too much time working and youths perceived that they did not spend enough time with their fathers.

Christie-Mizell studied the behavior and perceptions of 687 children ages 10 to 14 years old and living in two-parent households. He measured their bullying behavior using a scale based on the Behavior Problem Index (BPI), a 28-item scale designed to assess typical childhood behavior syndromes. He also observed their parents’ work hours. Mothers’ work hours had little to no effect on bullying behavior. This could be because youths perceive their mothers as being more accessible since they are primarily responsible for the responsibilities at home.

Also, approximately 40% of the mothers and 47% of their spouses/partners worked full-time (35 to 40 hours per week) and 15% of mothers and 50% of their spouses/partners worked overtime (more than 40 hours per week). According to these statistics, fathers tend to work full-time and overtime jobs more often than mothers. Therefore, they would not have as much time as mothers to spend with their children. Christie-Mizell stated that, “What this research shows is that while it’s equally important for kids to spend time with both parents, fathers need to make an extra effort.” His suggestion is to set up a schedule for parent-child interaction in order to guide youth’s perceptions of how much time they spend with their parents.

Fathers have more of an influence on the development of youths than most people think. Thus, one way to solve the issue of bullying is to attack it at its root—helping to foster success and maturity in young males now so they grow up to be responsible fathers in the future, especially those who are at risk of falling prey to unfortunate circumstances. Otherwise, bullying is just another vicious cycle we cannot get around.


by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

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Small Businesses and Our Economy

The Office of Advocacy defines a small business as an independent business with less than 500 employees. Few of us are aware of the impact small businesses produce on our economy. Small businesses:

  • Represent 99.7% of all employer firms
  • Employ half of all private sector employees
  • Pay 44% of total U.S. private payroll
  • Create more than half of the nonfarm private GDP
  • Hire 43% of high-tech workers (scientists, engineers, computer programmers, etc.)
  • Made up 97.5% of all identified exporters and produced 31 % of export value in FY 2008
  • Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms

People who own and operate their own business often take pride in their work and as a result,   their efficiency is very high. They provide their customers personalized and high-quality products or services. This can be demonstrated by comparing a temporary employee in a big company with a small-business employee. If an employee in a big company is hired for 40 hours a week, for example, he or she may not give the company 40 hours of production. It is difficult to monitor employees in big companies and part of those 40 hours can be spent on orientation, gathering office supplies, getting the computer turned on and paper loaded, etc. The independent entrepreneur usually does not pay per hour, but according to how much work is completed. They also usually charge less money than big companies for the same services or products.

During the 1980s and through the 1990s, the United States saw a growth in minority-owned businesses. However, most experts agree that minority-owned businesses face challenges that their white counterparts are able to avoid. Some factors that might influence the growth of minority-owned businesses are community support, increased networking, training programs, access to financing, and higher levels of education. Many do not see community support as essential but it plays a big role because entrepreneurial minorities benefit by instituting businesses within their communities that meet needs of that community. Community banks were among the most visible supporters of minority entrepreneurs in the 1980 and 90s. Their support today could greatly impact the emergence of new minority-owned business.

Small businesses accounted for 65% of the 15 million net new jobs created between 1993 and 2009. “Small business drives the American economy,” said Dr. Chad Moutray, Chief Economist for the Office of Advocacy in a press release. “Main Street provides the jobs and spurs our economic growth. American entrepreneurs are creative and productive, and these numbers prove it.” Investing in small businesses will greatly benefit the economy and the U.S. should begin by giving minorities the tools to create their own businesses.


by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology


Filed under Entrepreneurship

Coping With Neighborhood Violence

Urban neighborhoods are infamous for their high crime rates. Violence in these societies has detrimental effects on every member of the community, but especially those who are the most susceptible to negative influences—youths. In 2009, 76% of urban youths reported having been exposed to some community violence. However, experience with violence has also allowed a number of youths in urban communities to adopt diverse methods of coping with their environment. A University of Chicago study explored how youths respond to the violence in their communities through a series of in-depth interviews. The participants were all minorities—32 boys and girls from neighborhoods in Chicago, ranging from 14 to 17 years old. Most of the participants were not from low-income homes and reported at least one of their parents having some college education.  Regardless of these minute differences, their coping methodologies were similar.

The youths described their neighborhoods, their experiences with violence, and finally, how they coped with it. Some correlations that were discovered were: males were more likely than females to witness and be victims of community violence and that females were more likely than males to spend afterschool hours at home. The principal forms of violence that the youths reported being exposed to were fighting, physical attacks, incidents involving police, and gun violence which culminated in murders. One participant described watching a friend die in front of him with the dying boy’s pregnant girlfriend also present. The youths even recounted violent happenings they had heard about from others.

The study also illuminated the relationship between youths and police officers—most of the participants tended to distrust them. The male participants reported being stopped and questioned by police, seeing police chasing and shooting at community residents, and police coming into their homes to arrest their family members. One of the researchers said, “A noteworthy and unique finding, which has not been commonly discussed in prior research, is exposure to police incidents as a form of community violence exposure.”

The youths tended to cope by associating with people in their neighborhoods who were not a part of the violence. They also avoided situations where it was possible that violence would erupt, often by isolating themselves. Other techniques included resigning to their situation or learning to fight back or carry a gun. However, for a quarter of the youths, their best coping method was trying their best in school. They rationalized that achievement in school was their ticket to a better future—they would be able to get a good job and perhaps move to a safer neighborhood.

Based on the results of the study, the researchers recommend that schools should provide more counseling opportunities for youths. This would reduce the symptoms of distress associated with violence. Furthermore, schools should work with the communities to reduce gang activity and the availability of guns. Although violence is in abundance in urban communities, there are many steps local governments and schools can take together to reduce it. It is a fight that both entities must learn to tackle together and not independently.


Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

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Combating Delinquency: Introducing Positive Alternatives

The United Nations describes juvenile delinquency as antisocial behavior that is often a part of the “maturation and growth process and tends to disappear spontaneously in most individuals with the transition to adulthood”. Although it is true that naturally many youths do commit some kind of petty offence during their adolescence, it is also important to recognize that sometimes during this process youths create stable criminal groups that may later engage in more severe crimes. Many people have realized the necessity of preventing juvenile delinquency. Because juvenile groups exist in every local community, community-based prevention programs are ubiquitous. Federal funding for community initiatives has allowed independent groups to tackle the problem in a variety of ways.

There are numerous reasons why juvenile delinquency occurs. Socio-economic instability is often linked to unemployment and low incomes. Thus, youths who grow up in families with poor socio-economic status have an increased likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior. Geographical analysis also suggests that youth delinquency occurs more frequently in highly urbanized places than in rural locations. Youths in rural areas tend to be more dominated by their families and communities whereas urban youths are more subject to outside influences such as the media. In urban settings, the norms for acceptable behavior are broken down when unrealistic standards set by media and popular culture become a reality to many youths—forcing them to behave in ways they would not in traditional societies. Furthermore, available data shows that juvenile delinquency has strong gender associations–the crime rate of male youths is double that of females. This can be explained by the fact that society seems to be less tolerant of deviant behavior in girls than it is in boys. In patriarchal societies, aggression and violence play such important roles in the construction of masculinity that the male perception of violence can be desensitized.

To fight the negative effects of societal influences on the behavior of youths, the importance of family well-being is becoming more recognized. It seems that the most effective way to combat juvenile delinquency is to start assisting children and their families early-on. Educational programs have been developed to inform parents about how to raise successful and healthy children; inform youths on the matters of drugs, gangs, weapons, etc.; and other programs that aim to express to youths the innate worth they and all others have. These programs assist parents with raising their kids and help youths engage in positive self-appraisal.

Recreational activities are also encouraged in the fight against juvenile delinquency. These activities give youths a productive way to occupy their leisure time so they are not forced into criminal behavior. The Department of Education reports that youths are most likely to commit crimes between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., with crime rates peaking at 3 p.m. After school activities appealing to youths should reduce this phenomenon. This many include sports, dancing, music, rock climbing, drama, karate, bowling, art, etc.  Community involvement is also highly recommended.

Lastly, it has also been observed that changing an urban environment (literally altering its physical features) can reduce juvenile delinquency. A study conducted in an urban town within the United States revealed that most juvenile delinquency was concentrated around the town’s only park. Thus, the layout of the park was redesigned to create more recreational alternatives to youths.

Because juvenile delinquency stems from societal influences it is important for us to introduce positive influences to combat the negative ones. This includes re-introducing family and traditional values, initiating positive recreational activities within the community, and even redesigning the physical features of the community. By diverting the attention from media and popular culture to family and community involvement, juvenile delinquency can be greatly reduced.


Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology


Filed under Youth

Shaping Our World through Influences

Personality traits seem to come in opposites—you are patient or impatient, optimistic or pessimistic, aggressive or passive, adventurous or cautious, etc. Many of these are inherited traits but other characteristics such as the feeling of inferiority or lack of initiative are learned traits we develop based on the challenges and support we receive throughout our development. Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist influenced by Freud who organized life into eight stages from birth until death.

Stages of Development 

1. Trust vs. Mistrust–Birth to 18 months (Infancy):

Emphasis is placed on the parents’ positive and loving care for the child. If we pass successfully through this stage, we learn to trust that life is alright and have faith in the future. If we fail to establish a trust in others and constantly have our needs left unmet, we may end up with a feeling of mistrust with the world in general.

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt–18 months to 3 years (Early Childhood):

During this stage we learn how to do things for ourselves such as talking, walking, toilet training, etc. This gives us the opportunity to build self-esteem and autonomy as we gain more skills and learn to control ourselves. Yet, if we are shamed in the process of learning important skills or not given enough autonomy, we may doubt our capabilities and suffer low self-esteem.

3. Initiative vs. Guilt–3 to 5 years (Play Age):

During this stage, we have the desire to copy the influences around us and take the initiative in creating play situations. For example, a child may make up a dialogue between her dolls. We also start asking “Why?” and constantly question our surroundings. If initiative is restricted during this stage, we may experience guilt and frustration.

4. Industry vs. Inferiority–6 to 12 (School Age):

This stage is characterized by the capacity to learn, create, and accomplish new things, thus developing a sense of industry. However, because this is also a very social stage of development, if we experience unresolved feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among our peers, we can have serious problems in terms of self-esteem.

5. Identity vs. Role Confusion–12 to 18 (Adolescence):

This is a very important stage in development—the “Who am I?” stage. In this stage, according to Erikson, development mostly depends on what is done to us and every stage following it is impacted by what we do. We must discover who we are as individuals separate from our family and as members of a wider society. Therefore, it is no surprise that our most significant relationships are with peer groups. If we are unsuccessful in navigating this stage, we will experience role confusion and upheaval. A significant task for us is to establish a philosophy of life.

6. Intimacy vs. Isolation–18 to 35 (Young Adulthood):

In this stage we try to find mutually satisfying relationships, primarily through marriage and friendship. If navigating this stage is successful, we can experience intimacy whereas if we are unsuccessful, we will feel isolated from others.

7. Generativity vs. Self-Absorption–35-55 or 65 (Middle Adulthood):

Erikson observed that middle-age is when we tend to be occupied with creative and meaningful work and with issues surrounding our family. The significant task is to preserve our culture and transmit values of the culture through the family (teaching the kids) and working to establish a stable environment. Because the focus is on giving back and contributing to the betterment of society, Erikson called this stage generativity. Failure in this stage can result in self-absorption and stagnation.

8. Integrity vs. Despair–55 or 65 to Death (Late Adulthood):

If as older adults we can look back on our lives and feel happiness, fulfillment, and a sense that life has meaning and that we have somehow made a contribution to the world, then this will lead to a feeling Erikson calls integrity. We are able to accept death as the completion of life. However, some adults may reach this stage and feel despair regarding their experiences and failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their life.

While the actual ages one undergoes each stage may vary depending on the individual, it seems appropriate for a majority of people. Many of the problems people face as young adults or as adults can be traced back to failure in one of the stages of development. For example, many studies of suicides and suicide attempts point to the importance of the early years in developing the basic belief that the world is trustworthy and that every individual has a right to be here. Furthermore, a person who has difficulty in the adolescent stage might find it hard to maintain a job in the future because they were unable to form their own identity and establish what it is that they are happy pursuing. They may also have trouble with forming and maintaining healthy relationships with others.

For positive youth development to occur, the successful passage of each stage is important and requires the support of caring adults in the youth’s life. Erikson’s theory stresses the role of influences because they ultimately shape the way one views the world, themselves, and their future.


by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

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