In downtown Tucson, an organization called the Aviva Children’s Services is providing help and support for children and parents of broken or troubled families. Aviva’s goal is to reunite families and offer support through meetings and support programs. They offer a second chance to mend broken relationships in a safe and secured environment. Inside the one story building is a group of volunteers who call themselves the Aviva Divas. They meet every Thursday to sew and create dolls, quilts, and duffle bags for disadvantage children. They do not know who receives their carefully crafted creations, they are simply satisfied that their work helps a child stay warm or entertained with her new doll. Chris Morris is an Aviva Diva who takes comfort in knowing that the work and support provided by the Divas is helping small children who are in tough situations.
Angelica Elias is one of the parents who have used Aviva’s services to help her overcome substance abuse and reunite with her children. The Parent Peer Support Program was crucial to rebuilding her relationship with her children. The program helps parents who were separated from their children by providing a place for them to share and help other families struggling to overcome similar experiences. According to Elias, the group was a perfect fit because there were many others who shared similar experiences in the program.
Across the nation, many other organizations exist to help troubled children better themselves through programs that focus on rebuilding. Take for example, YouthBuild. It runs over 260 programs in nearly every state to help young adults from ages 16-24; a majority of them are high school drop outs, poor, with significant percentage having criminal records. YouthBuild’s model focuses its programs on academics and job training. The students help build houses or repair homes. Teachers and counselors make themselves available and have their student’s “back” according to one young man who is part of the program. Teachers and counselors assist with college applications, attend court hearings, and even help students obtain their driver’s license. As a result, 77% of those who join the YouthBuild program receive their GED with 61% obtaining jobs or moving on to secondary education.
Summer job internships have also played a key role in helping troubled young adults make better decisions and guide them to a positive trajectory in life. Internship programs help keep kids of the streets and provide opportunities to gain on-the-job experiences and earn a paycheck. In return, they gain a solid work experience that earns them the skills and work ethic that will benefit them in their future endeavors.
New York City runs the largest public summer internship program in the country. There are nearly 50,000 young adults involved in the program that provides various opportunities in summer camps, hospitals, government agencies, and even high tech firms. These programs provided a significant amount of hands after Hurricane Sandy devastated the city’s beaches.
The number of youths applying to the program is staggering. The organizations running the summer internships do not have enough openings for every single applicant, therefore must use a lottery system to select individuals to participate in the programs. In order to measure the success of these programs, the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania tracked nearly 300,000 students participating between 2005 and 2008. The result was a 54% less likely chance that students would end up in the New York State’s prison system. Another 20% was less likely to die in a homicide. However, it is only plausible that the skills they have acquired enabled them to avoid becoming a statistic in deadly crimes. Further studies by The Institute for Education and Social Policy at New Yo
rk University showed improvements in school attendance and performance for students with prior attendance problems.
Similar to New York City’s summer internship program, Chicago also began their own in the summer of 2012. The high number of crimes, most notably murders of young black men, was a major concern for the city. Through a combination of youth programs similar to Youthbuild and summer internships, city officials and program organizers hoped that a combination of work and mentoring programs would stave off the violence occurring in the community. Over the next sixteen months, there were 43% fewer arrest. More importantly, the impact was more notable after the sixteen months showing that young adults were not just too busy to commit crimes, they were applying the lessons that they learned afterwards
Millions of young adults are in danger of falling into the downward spiral that leads to jail or death. These youth programs are working diligently to prevent these young minds from falling into such a negative trajectory. James J. Heckman, an economist from The University of Chicago, argues that “we overinvest in attempting to remediate the problems of disadvantaged adolescents and underinvest in the early years of disadvantaged children.” Youthbuild and the summer internship programs of New York City and Chicago aim to help turn this misconception that there is little that can be done for these young individuals.