Equine Therapy Helps Mackenzie Focus on Her Goals; Now She’s a Scholarship Recipient

Harris County, Texas – Through equine therapy offered from Harris County Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., Mackenzie has learned self-control, empathy, and patience. The program is part of YAP’s mental health services offered to young people at home, school, or in community settings. 

“Being enrolled in equine therapy has helped with several of the issues from which I suffer,” Mackenzie said. “Patience has always been a struggle for me. Working with horses has helped me learn to harness some self-control and use patience as a way of handling situations with others.”

Mackenzie is one of the numerous former YAP program participants and family members or guardians receiving a 2022 Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education. Through the Endowment Fund scholarship, Mackenzie recently received a laptop to help during her first year at Galveston College where she is enrolled in the Culinary Arts program. 

A national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to provide trauma-informed community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration and congregate residential care. Mackenzie connected with YAP through the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) Waiver Program, which helps young people who face mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges. 

“One day, I hope to have my own business and compete in different baking competitions,” Mackenzie said. “Being awarded this scholarship is a blessing, to me and my family in helping me achieve my dream of becoming a pastry chef.”

After Maxing Out of Prison with Few Resources; They Created a Support System to Ease the Transition for Others

Essex County, N.J. -- Essex County, New Jersey Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. hosted a special graduation ceremony this month for 40 participants of a pilot program that supports individuals leaving prison when their sentences “max out.” The program is a partnership between YAP and the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC), which connects individuals to the program up to 180 days before their release date. 

“When you max out, you return to society often after many years in prison, with no supervision, but also with no support,” said Program Director Edwin “Chino” Ortiz who oversees the pilot, working alongside his brother, Program Coordinator Carmelo “Melo” Ortiz. The Ortiz brothers maxed out of prison in 2016, each after serving 30 years. When Edwin was 19 and Carmelo was 20, they were convicted on charges related to the death of man during a robbery.

YAP staff Advocates meet program participants at the prison gates on the day of their release and transport them to emergency housing. But before that, while they are still incarcerated, they meet with their YAP Advocates to create strength-based individualized service plans. Later, YAP staff are at each program participant’s side to help with applying for ID cards, accessing food pantries, and connecting with job training, healthcare resources, employment services, educational programs and recreational activities to strengthen family bonds. Participants also take part in weekly support group sessions and benefit from mental health and substance use treatment and restorative justice and other services that provide ways to give back to their communities.

Instead of Incarceration, Karemma Got an Advocate and Turned Her Life Around

Philadelphia - Karemma, a former program participant with Philadelphia Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., wants people to know that she’s living proof that there are effective alternatives to youth incarceration. At a recent Philadelphia meet-and-greet, Karemma and her former Philadelphia YAP Advocate Ms. Tawaina shared their story with Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Liz Ryan. 

See their moving story in this interview:

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