More than one thousand New Jersey kids ages 6-18 -- many who have lost loved ones to gun violence -- are kicking off a campaign called, “Sixty-four days: A summer of Peace.”
The young people are enrolled in Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a nonprofit operating in every New Jersey county and more than 100 other communities in 24 states and the District of Columbia, that serves as an alternative to youth incarceration and other out-of-home placement. Guided by a “no reject, no eject policy,” YAP serves youth referred by youth justice and child welfare agencies and works with schools, behavioral health organizations and others to serve young people who are dealing with some of life’s most complex challenges.
“While some communities in the state have seen an overall reduction in gun crime, kids served by YAP are at a greater risk of being directly impacted and traumatized by violence of all kinds, domestic, bullying and exposure to incidents involving guns; and often, summertime is when violence peaks,” said YAP Regional Vice President, Lynette Connor.
The effectiveness of the YAP model is its simplicity. The nonprofit hires neighborhood-based Advocate-mentors who spend an average of 10 hours per week with each young person to help them identify and realize their strengths, gifts and talents. At the same time, YAP Advocates work with youths’ parents and guardians to connect them to tools and resources to firm their foundation.
“We’re very proud of our 41-year New Jersey track record of keeping justice-involved youth safe at home, where they are not reoffending; but we have had times when youth have become involved in violence and even found themselves in adult court facing gun charges,” Connor said. “We’re always fighting for more funding so we can be with high-need youth for more hours because we know that time in their communities with our Advocates is what makes a difference.”
The 2019 YAP “Summer of Peace” evolved from past YAP campaigns where staff members led discussions with youth guided by 64 daily mantras, meditations and affirmations, as adapted from those designed by Association for Global New Thought. This year, Summer of Peace has new energy as YAP Advocates are working directly and individually with the youth they serve, empowering them to make their commitment to the campaign more personal and sustainable.
“Because of their personal experiences and losses, youth involved in our programs have been extremely outspoken about their pain and desire to make a difference,” Connor said. “Sadly, our kids have to fight for peace. We are encouraged that with support from their YAP Advocates, they will see the possibility of their power this summer.”
From July 1 – Sept. 2, 2019, YAP program-enrolled youth will take the lead to make A Summer of Peace their own. In addition, YAP offices will host fun events, like a waterpark outing in Atlantic County and a street soccer match hosted by YAP Gloucester/ Salem Counties.
Cumberland/Cape May Counties
Youth will create biodegradable paper lanterns where they will write down their commitment to peace and release them into the sky before taking bike rides and picnicking by Delaware Bay.
Youth will enjoy a barbecue in a local park where a DJ will introduce them one by one to read reflections and poems about how they have been impacted by gun violence and how they will commit personally to a Summer of Peace.
Youth and their YAP Advocates will help host a cookout with partner agencies and law enforcement that will include presentations and discussions about ways to bridge gaps of trust.
Gloucester/ Salem Counties
Youth will take part in neighborhood cleanup events and lead Summer of Peace discussions.
Other Summer of Peace Activities throughout New Jersey
“Summer of Peace enables YAP program youth to realize their own leadership and enable them to see firsthand how even small acts can make a big difference,” Connor said.
Learn more at www.yapinc.org.
CONTACT: Kelly Williams Companies Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org