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  • Jaquan Brockman

A Hidden Gem: Youth Enrichment Services

In the Summer of 2019, as I finished up my freshman year at Carlow University, I encountered a hidden gem, Youth Enrichment Services (YES) in Pittsburgh. YES is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1995 and has been dedicated to servicing local communities, students, and families for nearly three decades. The mission at YES is to provide socioeconomically at-risk youth the opportunity to achieve success through a plethora of mentorship, education, and enrichment programs. Some of these programs include but are not limited to, their Voices 2 Men & FeWi mentoring programs, Pathways to Access career readiness program, and their All About Me academic enrichment and truancy prevention.

As I oriented myself at the organization, I originally felt out of place given that I was an upcoming college sophomore amongst predominate underclass high school students. However, I felt welcomed and more at ease once I was around other students my age in the program as well as my placement with YES Writers. That summer was truly an unforgettable experience and was packed with memories that I made with newfound friends and colleagues. The highlight moments of my first summer with YES were undoubtedly the YES Writers’ trip to Harlem, the trip to Hershey Park, and the Research Symposium where people could read my essay as assigned to the YES Writers in leui of a traditional research project.

When YES was first established in 1994, it was known as Project YES, a summer learning program that provided West Virginian youth living in public housing communities, more commonly known as the projects, with academic enrichment, agricultural training, sports development, and mentorship. Even in the prepubescent stage of YES, there were numerous transformative stories, national accolades, and positive outcomes that have significantly influenced the direction that the organization would take in the coming years and decades.

As a recent YES alum and their current Media Specialist, I have the pleasure of seeing the implementation and even engaging with some of the aforementioned programs firsthand. Whether it be capturing media during the PAP sessions or even capturing media and being a male mentor in the Voices2Men program and being in a position to make a meaningful impact on the students. I even had the pleasure of personally working with the late Matthew Steffy-Ross on the logo design for his “Mindsetz” clothing line and even capturing photos of him that would go on to be used for his obituary. So while some may see YES as just another non-profit organization, I personally see it as a means to make a meaningful impact in the lives and even the legacies of teens who need it the most.

Ingrained in the matrix of YES is the value of community-centered programming and the dream for communities to adopt enrichment initiatives, a dream that the West Virginian inner-city communities that were improved by Project YES brought to fruition as they embraced self-sustenance and currently operate their own YES-like programs. This revelation influenced YES’ move to Pittsburgh where it became a prime source of intervention to address academic underachievement, inner-city blight, and high school drop-out among teens in the city.

These interventions are visible in the programs that YES has implemented, notably All About Me (AAM) and Diversion. AAM is a school year program that focuses on enhancing students’ out-of-school time, academic improvement, truancy reduction, as well as home and school visits to ensure that they are Pittsburgh Promise Ready. Successfully addressing these objectives would mean that YES is directly contributing to a reduction in the symptoms of the inner-city blight such as academic underachievement, the high school dropout rate, as well as providing the youth with workforce opportunities.

Additionally, YES also has a role in reducing punitive actions against juveniles in the criminal legal system by placing an emphasis on restorative practices with their Diversion program. Rather than leaving the youth to enter the criminal legal system, YES works directly with the courts to offer an alternative that not only prevents the youth from facing time for their actions but also works directly with them to address and correct their behaviors to prevent future offenses and ultimately being a support system for the youth where needed. This includes house visits, being present during court trials, communicating with probation officers and judges on the behalf of the students, and a plethora of other supportive services to ensure that the youth have all the resources to avoid becoming another statistic.

Starting as Project YES serving the projects and inner city communities in West Virginia and later relocating to Pittsburgh and expanding its scope of services and programs as Youth Enrichment Services, the vision, and purpose of the nonprofit have been the same since its inception: servicing underserved communities and providing them with the support and resources necessary to increase the quality of life for the youth, an objective they have been successful of fulfilling for nearly three decades, and I am truly grateful to be apart of the work they are doing as well capturing it for generations after me to see for themselves.

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