I’ve been hearing some impressive feedback about our JusticeWorks Independent Living Program (IL) and wanted to find out what all the buzz is about! Therefore, I interviewed a few of our IL staff members on what makes the JusticeWorks IL Program unique.
Let’s begin with what IL is. The IL program is designed to help transitional age youth (14-21), who have been in out-of-home care and are involved in the child welfare or the Juvenile Justice system. These children have had a disruption in their upbringing. Our staff understand the delicate balance between holding youth accountable for their actions while also understanding the history and past trauma of disenfranchised youth. They would undoubtedly benefit from research-informed interventions addressing the competency development skills needed for their journey to adulthood.
What makes JWYC IL program the best in class, is not only our incredibly dedicated staff but our intentional efforts to build an IL family. Youth rely on our staff and each other throughout the program. They genuinely feel like part of a family that includes community supports. Our staff are continually reaching out to the community, using identified experts to teach classes and interact with our youth. Youth gain a tremendous amount of support to be successful in the IL program. They begin to view themselves as an integral part of a broader community. One participant stated, “I really loved being a part of the program. I asked if there was a way to be able to stay in the program because JusticeWorks has helped me so much. I thought that this could be my way of giving back because of how much JYWC helped me.”
JWYC IL programs offer classes, one-on-one assistance, and mentoring to all youth. Class examples include Baby Boot Camp (provided by our own IL alumna and current JWYC case aide – Phyllis Wood), a Book Club, Men and Women’s Groups, Coping Skills, Financial education, Leadership and Learning Group, ITSY (Independence Through Service Volunteering), Career exploration, and Drug and Alcohol prevention.
During the current crisis of COVID 19, our staff have worked diligently to transition to online classes and virtual interaction through apps such as Zoom and Facebook. We could not have done this without the help of the program youth. The amazing part of this transition was that the youth were equal partners on the set-up, scheduling, and coordination with staff and each other. The virtual classes included cooking demonstrations, learning Japanese, virtual book club, vehicle Maintenance, and American Sign Language. IL Staff are facilitating writing contests and holding Virtual Spirit Weeks, in which students show program and team spirit in line with the days’ themes.
Our youth are also involved in the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) at the local, regional, and state levels. YAB offers the opportunity for participants to share their experiences at local speaking events, and brainstorm ideas regarding future classes, speakers, and topics. Youth engagement is crucial for the continuous improvement of the IL program and the foster care system.
One of the best outcomes of success for JusticeWorks is when an IL participant joins the ranks of our staff after aging out of the program. Rosalee and Phyllis are two wonderful examples of how life has come full circle for them:
Rosalee Sepella: “Although I aged out of the Independent Living program, I was thrilled to accept part-time employment with JusticeWorks as a case-aid in the Erie location. I want to thank everyone for helping me achieve everything I ever wanted over my past five years with JWYC. To everyone still in the IL program, take advantage of it! If you use the available resources, the sky is really the limit!” Rosalee began a movement for youth to avoid becoming a statistic in the foster care system. She started the campaign using the hashtag – #NotAStatistic (to learn more, click here).
Phyllis Wood: “At sixteen, success was not something I could imagine until I completed the JusticeWorks IL program. I am now twenty, and the things I have accomplished due to the caring staff of JusticeWorks has shaped me into the young woman that I never knew I could be. I have a high school diploma, beat homelessness, and attend college. I also obtained employment with JusticeWorks as a Case Aid at the Indiana County location!” Phyllis is an active member of the Youth Advisory Board. She states, “It is a passion of mine to see all of JusticeWorks’ Youth Advisory Boards grow to be extra special. There, they can meet with local youth, learn from people at the regional level, and feel a sense of belonging at the state-wide level.”
JusticeWorks has been an Independent Living Program (IL) provider since 2011. We were awarded the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work 2018 Statewide Independent Living Provider of the Year.
For more information on our IL program, please contact Dipesh Chauhan (610-858-8094) to schedule a visit at one of our program locations in Indiana, Butler, or Greene Counties.