Finding a Place That was Safe – My Mentor Helped Me Create a New Life
Arches, collaboration with the New York City Department of Probation, is a group mentoring program that helps 20 young adults (16-24 Some of them have been incarcerated for felonies and misdemeanors, some are on probation. The program helps transform the attitudes and behaviors that led to their criminal activity.
Each person has a mentor with whom they meet individually and as a group twice a week. The discussions focus on education, work and community. The Arches coordinator works with their probation officers to enable them to get their lives back on track.
When Earl, 19 years old, came to JCCA three years ago, he was in trouble. He was falling victim to the life on the streets – getting arrested, not going to school – and was on a self-destructive path toward an uncertain future. Then he met Khadijah, who became his Arches mentor. She saw a troubled young man who had great potential. But he was not coming to class and was making bad choices
“At the time, three close friends had died,” Earl recounts. “I called them my brothers and they were lost to the streets. I thought everyone was against me and that everyone was out to hurt me. Arches made me feel safe; I realized that everybody is not a bad person. The other participants are also going through a lot and understanding that helped me a lot. When I started the program, I didn’t care about anything. I was quiet and didn’t relate to anyone. Now I have friends. My mentor is there for me. When she saw I was not going to school, she set goals – first get to school, then get there on time. She phoned me to make sure I was on my way. Now I am proud to say I have a 98% attendance record. When she saw that I was scared to go to court, she came with me. The judge was impressed that I had support from someone other than my family. And I felt like there are people who really love me.”
Khadijah is impressed with his growth. “Earl had family support, but it was not enough to help him overcome the peer pressure from his friends on the street. That is why Arches was so important to helping set him on a new path. Initially, Earl did not seem receptive to the group work, but then he became open and began to implement the training. Now he wants to surround himself with more positive people. He is participating in after-school trips and is more patient, calm and focused. And he is developing great leadership skills. I am so proud of him.”
“I have really grown as part of this program. I didn’t think I would graduate from high school,” Earl reflects. “Now I am planning on graduating in June and am looking at going to college. I see possibilities and a new future for me. I am planning to major in business.”