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

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.

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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.

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Framework for Positive Youth Development: Every Child Requires These FIVE Promises

The ‘framework for positive youth development’ outlines the support that young people need in order to transition successfully into adulthood. It emphasizes the necessity of focusing on youths’ strengths, identifying their weaknesses and minimizing their risk factors. Gallup Student Poll studies suggest that majority of the youth in the United States are not hopeful, engaged and thriving in their personal and educational/occupational lives—in fact, only four out of ten are succeeding in these areas. Lawmakers tend to focus on the risk factors or negative behaviors of youth, such as trying to find ways to reduce teenage pregnancy or high school drop-out rates. Just as reinforcement is proven to be more effective than punishment when trying to change someone’s behavior, positive youth development is a better tool for trying to fix these problems. It emphasizes the support and services that must be available to help youth in their various stages of development.

The framework, developed by America’s Promise Alliance, circles around the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional needs of young people. It states that youth need FIVE key support systems throughout their development:

Caring Adults: This Promise discusses the importance of concerned adults in young peoples’ lives. These adults can be in their families, from their schools, or members of their communities. Those who are able to develop secure relationships with their parents and formal and informal relationships with adults such as mentors, coaches, and youth volunteers have a great advantage. However, it seems that 30% of teenagers and 20% of younger children do not have quality relationships with their parents and only 8% of youth ages six to seventeen have a formal mentor. Youths themselves realize the importance of having adults in their lives—40% of young people ages 8 to 21 do wish they had these adult figures which they could turn to for help.

Safe Places: The second Promise encompasses the importance of physical and emotional security. From their homes, to schools, to neighborhoods, youth need safe places in order to develop. Sadly, only 37% have this luxury. These places must also engage them actively and constructively—there should be balance of structured and unstructured activities. Only four in ten young people participate in activities that teach needed skills, such as how to form lasting relationships with others and how to make big decisions. A great majority of them say that they sometimes (or never) feel safe in their schools or communities.

Healthy Start to Development: This Promise deals with the fact that youth need a healthy start to their development, including healthy bodies, minds, and habits. This can be ensured through regular checkups with a doctor, good nutrition and exercise, healthy skills and knowledge, and good role models. Although Americans have increased their awareness in health especially by recognizing the dangers of obesity, studies still show that only 43% of our young people are experiencing this Promise. 65% of them actually said that they wish they knew more stores and restaurants that sold healthy foods and drinks.

Effective Education: This Promise is about the importance of an effective education. Intellectual stimulation is an important aspect for youth as they grow, and for the future, when one must secure a job. In today’s competitive global economy, education is more important than ever. It results from having quality learning environments, challenging expectations and consistent guidance. More than 60% of youth ages ten to twenty-one believe that their schools should give them more preparation for the real world.

Opportunities to Help Others: The last Promise deals with opportunities to help others. Youth want to get involved in their communities, but many lack meaningful opportunities to contribute. America’s Promise Alliance states that “Knowing how to make a difference comes from having models of caring behavior, awareness of the needs of others, a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the larger society, and opportunities for volunteering, leadership and service.”

These are known as the “Five Promises”. America’s Promise Alliance noticed that “Children who receive at least four of the Five Promises are much more likely than those who experience only one or zero Promises to succeed academically, socially and civically. They are more likely to avoid violence, contribute to their communities and achieve academic excellence in school. Receiving at least four of the Five Promises also appears to mitigate gaps across racial and economic boundaries.”

States are now beginning to use this framework to develop policies and programs to help youth prepare for college, work and life. Re:LIFE Inc. adopts these Promises and endeavor to ensure that the Re:LIFE Team and all its programs effectively employ them. We are a number of caring adults dedicated to helping youth succeed. We provide positive learning environments and effective educational programs, which include internship opportunities for youth to contribute to their communities by applying what they have learned. All youth-based institutions in the U.S. should try to adhere to the framework for positive youth development. As the saying goes, “Children are the future”, and by implementing these ideas we invest and develop the future of our nation as well.

Source
http://www.ncsl.org/?tabid=16375#frameworks
 
by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology
Edited by Chike Ukaegbu

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Re:LIFE’s ArtLIFE Program: Empowering Youth through Art Education

Du bleu dans vos coeurs....

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr (Un Peu d'amour! means 'a little love')

“Re:LIFE’s programs are all aimed at reinventing today’s youth. Re:LIFE’s programs are determined to educate, equip, encourage, cultivate and motivate youth to become entrepreneurs in diverse fields that will spur economic growth, reduce unemployment, and increase fiscal responsibility in our communities.
The Reengagement Program is Re:LIFE’s Premier endeavor. It is designed to have an entrepreneurial focus, which will come alongside educational, career and leadership preparations in the five different areas of concentration. The Reengagement program spans an intensive 12- 24 month timeline. This time frame is broken down into a Mandatory Intensive 12-month training session, and Voluntary Extensive job placement/ fiscal responsibility session.” – http://www.relifeinc.org/reengagement.html

The Re:LIFE Reengagement Program for disconnected male youth incorporates five concentration areas with each student being assigned to his preferred area of concentration—ArtLIFE, FitLIFE, ServeLIFE, TechLIFE and BizLIFE. Although Re:LIFE Inc is an entrepreneurship-centered program, it acknowledges the necessities of training in other areas, especially as desired by the participant. Those in the Arts, for example, plan and execute a showcase of talents of which potential talent scouts will select candidates they hope to sponsor. Hence, the showcase serves as an audition for the candidates.
Some people do not readily see art as a focus from which one can pursue a career or learn valuable life skills. Unfortunately, some schools which are facing budgets cuts accommodate these changes by decreasing the number of art programs. Yet, the benefits of training and education in the arts can be found in all aspects of life and as such, art education should be preserved.

The arts are an important part of every youth’s education. Similar to English, Math, Science and other core subjects, the Arts also contains challenging subject areas that contain rigorous content and standards of achievement. Making art or simply experiencing it will help youth grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. It can also be extremely beneficial for economically disadvantaged youth and those who are at risk of not succeeding in school. As stated by Eric Cooper, president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, “Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences”. Research studies depict a strong correlation between learning in the arts and acquiring the fundamental cognitive skills and capacities used to master other core subjects.
Obviously art education develops creativity within youth. Let’s examine how it builds other aspects of the personality:

Critical Thinking and Communication Skills: Youth who study art are made to interpret and draw conclusions from the material. This fosters critical thinking by encouraging them to think outside the box and expand their mind. They learn to question things by participating in the arts. They also learn to problem solve and convey their thoughts and ideas effectively. Studies have actually shown that exposing youth to art promotes brain activity.

Emotional Development: The practice of art builds self-esteem, discipline, and maturity. For example, “After drawing a sketch, if a child does not like the final outcome, he erases and re-draws certain portions. Thus, he learns “trial and error” through art and uses the same in real life situations.” It also improves observational skills because one learns to take notice of small details and this will allow youth to appreciate even the smallest things in life. Lastly, they are exposed to different ides of beauty and perceptions of the world and thus, they develop a mind more open to the experiences and people they might come across in the future.

Interpersonal Skills: Art allows youth to develop a better understanding of human nature. They learn to see the world from other people’s points of view and as a consequence they are more willing to respect the thoughts and feelings of others.

Not only are the points mentioned above important skills necessary for youth development, they are also attributes any employer would want in an employee. And if one is particularly gifted in a field of art, this can open the door to a lucrative profession in the arts, thus increasing youth innovation and employment.

The subdivisions of Re:LIFE’s ArtLIFE include music, theater, dance, creative writing, painting/mosaic, and interior/exterior design. Youth that choose to participate in this area of concentration undergo basic, intermediate, and advanced training in their particular field and are then allowed to showcase their developed skills and talents. Art is an indispensable subject that would benefit anybody, regardless of artistic inclination.

Sources:
http://www2.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/updates/040826.html
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/importance-of-art-education.html
 
by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology
Edited by Chike Ukaegbu

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Community Outreach Programs: Touching Youth Lives through Intervention

They groan when told its bedtime, slam doors when mom says “no,” argue when someone disagrees with their ideas, and fight strongly for what they believe in. I think most of us can agree on the fact that generally youth are stubborn. Some are more likely to stir up tension than comply nicely with what is being asked or even given to them—a natural rebellion that accompanies this period in life.  Does this generalization apply, however, to youth that do not have the luxury of having two caring parents, a home to live in, or even something to fight for.  A study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy found that youth usually perceive community outreach workers positively, whether or not they have personally worked with one.

Community outreach workers are people who try to prevent conflict among the members of the community and, in some circumstances, provide necessary services to individuals such as housing, health care, and job training.  Community outreach programs exist in all of the United States, especially concentrated in urban cities.  In most cases they serve as a strategy to connect at-risk youth to beneficial services and prevent gang-related violence.

Re:LIFE Inc., for example, is a community-based youth development organization established in Harlem. It focuses on the provision of the needed training, opportunities, motivation and relevant life skills necessary for the proper grooming of educationally, socially and fiscally responsible youth in New York City. It is not uncommon for people to be reluctant to seek help when they find themselves in an uncomfortable, and sometimes perceived as embarrassing, situation such as unemployment. The same can be said of young people due to their stubborn tendencies. Before this study, little was known about how these programs and workers are actually perceived by youth within the communities they serve, especially those who have not worked with them personally.

Researchers surveyed 159 individuals ages 13 to 23 in Lowell, Massachusetts to evaluate their perceptions of local community outreach workers. The workers were from an organization called The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC). It was established in 1999 in response to local gang violence. Sixty-three percent of the survey’s participants indicated that they know first-hand of fights which the workers intervened in or prevented. Eighty-two percent of the respondents who participated in the worker-led mediation activities said their conflicts had successfully been resolved. Keshia Pollack, an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, stated that “even youth who haven’t directly benefited from working one-on-one with street outreach workers are telling us their presence makes their own community a better place.”

The participants were also asked about their employment, education, and health care needs. Approximately sixty percent responded that they needed assistance finding and securing a job; one-third required help with writing a resume; and over fifty percent stated that they could not have connected with the services they needed without the help of the outreach workers. “Young people have needs beyond conflict resolution strategies, and it is important that communities consider this point when thinking about how best to keep their young people moving in the right direction. At the end of the day, teens know that the factors necessary for a successful transition to adulthood include education, employment, and health care,” said researcher Shannon Frattaroli.

Regardless of their rebellious tendencies, youth understand the importance of community outreach programs and gravitate towards them. Support for these workers and programs should definitely be encouraged because our communities are a better place as a result of their work.

Source:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101208125807.htm
Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
Pace University
B.A. Applied Psychology

Edited by Chike Ukaegbu

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Empowering Youth: Qualities of an Effective Mentor II

GENUINE LISTENER

A Youth Mentor Must Be  A Genuine Listener.

A week ago, I started the series on Qualities of an Effective Mentor in respect to Youth Empowerment. In that article, I stressed on the need to

1. Assess – Test the mental, emotional, social and psychological stability of prospective mentors,

2.  Train – Equip qualified mentors with tools and materials relevant to building successful relationships and mentoring youth

3. Monitor- Supervise and Monitor relationships to ensure effectiveness and positive impact from people who mentor youth.

Following these steps will minimize the rate at which unqualified and incapable people dabble into the business of Youth Mentoring.

I also talked about the importance of Empathy and Compassion in relation to Youth Development, and how they could help one build trust in a mentor-youth relationship (Click to read article)

My second point therefore, is the need for Genuine Listening and its impact when dealing with youth. We have all heard the ‘talk less, listen more’ clichés and so on.  However, as watered-down as the quote might sound, we need to emulate it when dealing with youth. Borrowing from Deborah Tanned’s quote, “the biggest mistake is believing that there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation—or a relationship”, one must be an extremely skilled and resourceful listener to understand and impact youth. By listening, I don’t just mean what is being said, you have to listen to what their bodies are saying, what their eyes are saying, what their moods are saying, EVERYTHING; and try to coordinate them to all say the same thing.

In order words, if you notice that one’s mood is sour and unusual, and responses to well-being questions are simply ‘I’m fine’, something could be wrong. Find it out! In fact, one thing that effective listening helps you do is become more familiar with your mentee’s responses, actions, behaviors or moods, which in turn could help you address a need.

By being observant, by listening to more than just words, you convince the youth that you do not just want to be around, but that you genuinely CARE, and care deeply about their well-being. This will help them open up more readily, sometimes before you even ask about an issue. One strategy that always worked for me when inquiring about a sour mood was to tell a story about a disappointment I had in the past and how not sharing it made it hurt some more. This always worked even though in some cases there is usually some delay, and then a gradual opening up.

Another strategy is to tactfully ask about their loved ones. If the reason for a certain mood or action is caused by a loved one, a unique reaction, either a sigh, a heave, pain or more sorrow is always expressed when you mention the person behind the mood. It helps them open up to tell you what happened. However, if they insist on not sharing, let them be. Just be patient about it, they eventually do.

Now I intentionally did not use the word ‘Observer’ because I believe that an observer is not as involved in a relationship as a Listener. An observer is sometimes a third person ‘interactor’ who only needs to make an observation without making direct connection. An observer is not obligated to respond. A listener on the other hand is an attentive participator with an intention and/or an expectation of some sort of response; whether it be a silent response (i.e. nodding, acknowledgement etc), verbal response or a physical reaction. A connection is needed for effective response. Observation is in essence, a crucial part of listening, but should not be mistaken for it or substituted for it.

Thus, in listening to your mentee, every word, action, mood, movement, excuse, motive, mannerism, etc is relevant in building the framework of messages being passed across in order to effectively respond to their actions. A genuine and positive response based on a cautious interpretation of messages received (from words, actions, moods, etc) could gainfully affect and help uplift a mentee in their time of distress or rebellion. So Observe carefully, but LISTEN GENUINELY!

Download PDF: Empowering Youth- Qualities of an Effective Mentor I

Download PDF: Empowering Youth- Qualities of an Effective Mentor II

By Chike Ukaegbu,
Founder/CEO, Re:LIFE Inc
Re:LIFE is a 501c3 nonprofit organization determined to educate, equip, encourage, cultivate and motivate young disconnected males to become entrepreneurs in diverse fields that will spur economic growth, reduce unemployment, and increase fiscal responsibility in our communities. This entrepreneurial focus will come alongside educational, career and leadership preparations in five different areas of concentration.
For more information about the Re:LIFE Re-engagement Program and other Re:LIFE services, Contact us at:
Email: relife@relifeinc.org
Call: 347.450.1205/06
Visit our Website: http://www.relifeinc.org
Become a LIFEr Today: http://bit.ly/fN6B0b
Like our Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/hewFET
Follow us on Twitter: Relifeinc
Add us on LinkedIn: Re:LIFE Incorporated

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Causes of Male Youth Disconnection: Being an ‘Out of Work and Out of School’ Youth in Harlem during an Economic Recession

Download  Article: PDF (Causes of Male Youth Disconnection)

I have mentored youth in Harlem for over 7 years. For them, being in an economic situation where it seems like ‘when it rains, it pours’, is nothing new to most if not all of the youth I deal with in Harlem. I mean the bills, homelessness, violation tickets, racial discrimination, probation, joblessness etc, are only a few of the plights many of my mentees and GED students encounter. But I could tell you without a doubt that this recession has definitely deepened their already bad quandary. Most of them who were slightly better off with menial jobs and other sources of low-income are now being faced with the ugly reality of joblessness or inconsistent meager wages, while accumulating more bills and responsibilities to take care of.

The effects of the looming recession, depression, or whatever else we choose to brand it, have only deepened the impact of a nationally growing crisis – Youth Disconnection. Youth Disconnection is a term used to describe ‘Out of Work and Out of School’ youth; a phenomenon, which had always been a serious problem among minority male youth of several urban cities like New York City. However, the recent events of the past few years are exponentially multiplying its population and effects.

In retrospect, the consequences of disconnection contribute to the burdens on every society’s financial and social responsibilities. These demographic of ‘work-capable’ youth constitute only a meager tax base, weaken the security of their communities, have the tendency to resort to drug trafficking, crime and violence, and result in higher expenditures on public benefits. It is therefore a community’s duty to invest in re-engaging these youth, or continue to bear the consequences of a lackadaisical attitude.

There are over 220,000 disconnected youth in the NYC area, majority of whom are males, all on their way or already burdens to society.  This often overlooked demographic, mostly live in poverty, tends to experience sporadic employments, earn underpaid wages, are dependent on public assistance, and most often fall prey to crime and violent deeds.

Interestingly, these youth are supposed to be the socioeconomic drivers and sustainers of our community’s future. Without having the availability of proficient, employable young workers to replace increasingly retiring baby boomers (who are in fact learning now to stay longer on the job because of current financial hardships), several industries on which our economic sustenance is hinged upon is bound to be in trouble. For instance, according to the NYC Labor Market Information Service, the average age of Construction workers in New York City is 50, a figure which translates to an estimated 20,000 construction opening s in 2011.  Also, the healthcare industry, already in jeopardy of insufficient qualified personnel will further experience workforce crises, as one-third of current healthcare workers (nurses and aides) retire. Most of these health personnel were over the age of 50 in 2000.  It is therefore clear that regardless of the economic crises, there is a pertinent need to train and equip youth to fill these openings both now and in the nearest future.

However, in order to solve the problem of disconnection, it is necessary to understand its roots. From research and experience, I have compiled a list of some factors that cause disconnection in Harlem and our societies at large.

A) Dropping Out of School: Employees without High School Diplomas are least likely to hold consistent gainful employments. This is because they are the most vulnerable during job cuts and corporation size reductions. According to NYC Department of Education, African-Americans and Hispanics males were the least likely to earn their diplomas in 2000 (most recent year of relevant documentation). These demographic groups have graduation rates of less than 50%.

B) Aging Out of Foster Care System: Youth who age out of foster care without proper transitioning trainings tend to fall prey to disconnection. These mostly experience instability of multiple foster-care placements, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, mental illness, criminality and/or substance abuse before discharge.

C) Poverty and Low-Quality Education: The economic crises has resulted in the demand of higher levels of literacy and technical proficiency, making it increasingly difficult for even high school diploma holders to find gainful employment with the opportunity of advancement. In fact, the instability and insecurities of parental or guardian income sometimes causes younger school-aged youth to drop out of school in order to find work. Young people with semi- or illiterate parents, who do not stress the need, nor value the importance of quality education, end up dropping out of school for lousy reasons.

D) Early Parenthood: According to studies by Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, teenage fatherhood, which has received far less scrutiny than teenage motherhood has many negative educational, financial, social, health and other developmental consequences for these young men and their children. Young teenage males who become parents while dependent on others tend to drop out of school more often than their counterparts without children. National surveys indicate that there are as much as 7% of male teenagers who are fathers, with higher rates among inner-city and African-American youth (Sonenstein, Pleck, and Ku, 1993).

E) Older Immigrant Youth: In the diverse-rich City of New York, (Harlem being a bouquet of several immigrant groups, from Africans, to Hispanics, to Asians, Arabs, etc), there is a greater chance that older immigrant youth without the time to learn, and ability to fluently speak English will most likely drop out of school. Also, discrimination, social and geographic isolation, little or no job experience, and lower levels of English proficiency make it even increasingly difficult for older immigrant youth to find employment; thus resulting to disconnection.

F) Juvenile Delinquency: Youth with convicted backgrounds find it difficult staying in school or finding work. With more than 2000 juveniles detained in New York City facilities everyday (NYC Council), and 1200 returning to the City from correctional facilities from other parts of the State, more than two-thirds of these youth experience disconnection because of the multitude of barriers encountered while trying to secure employment or re-enroll in school.

G) Youth with Emotional/Behavioral Issues or Learning Disabilities: Emotional or behavioral issues in youth, which are often less obvious than physical impairments, are great contributors to youth disconnection. Each year, 12 – 15, 000 of the City’s 50,000 disabled 14-21 year olds drop out of school without graduating (Advocates for Children, 2005), increasing disconnected youth population.

H) High Levels of Unemployment: While New York City is experiencing high levels of unemployment rates of around 10%, minority based communities such as Harlem have consistently been hit harder by the steep uptick in unemployment rates. According to the New York State Department of Labor, unemployment rates in certain Harlem districts were as high as 18%, even tripling the overall City’s rate in some cases. Studies have shown that whereas the unemployment rates of whites in Upper Manhattan is between 4-5%, rates of Blacks and Hispanics fluctuate around the 20% mark.

Unfortunately, besides the economic crises, unemployment rates are usually closely tied to factors such as education (regions of lesser high school diplomas tend to experience higher unemployment rates), language barriers and criminal backgrounds. These are factors that all plague the Harlem community, as well as hinder the re-engagement of disconnected youth. I was therefore appalled to realize that existing public education and workforce funding for programs targeted to this demographic, serve no more than 7% of New York City’s disconnected youth.  There are very few programs available to disconnected youth that utilize a combined education and workforce development approach.

Re:LIFE, having assessed these obstacles, realized that the missing innovations to the combined education and workforce development approach lacked

a) The training of disconnected youth to become entrepreneurs. As the saying goes, ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’

b) The use of practical and effective youth-friendly curriculum, schedule and flexible modules

c) The right expertise and youth-understanding professionals to coach/mentor youth

Re:LIFE is determined to educate, equip, encourage, cultivate and motivate young disconnected males to become entrepreneurs in diverse fields that will spur economic growth, reduce unemployment, and increase fiscal responsibility in our communities. This entrepreneurial focus will come alongside educational, career and leadership preparations in five different areas of concentration.

For more information about the Re:LIFE Re-engagement Program and other Services, Contact us at:

Email: relife@relifeinc.org

Call: 347.450.1201/06

Visit our Website: http://www.relifeinc.org

Become a LIFEr Today: http://bit.ly/fN6B0b

Like our Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/hewFET

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Add us on LinkedIn: Re:LIFE Incorporated

 

By Chike Ukaegbu,

Founder/CEO, Re:LIFE Inc


 

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