By Sarah Dolgin
When re-entering the community after incarceration, people need resources and support to get back on their feet. For the adult population in this position there are organizations that provide such opportunities — but for youth, there is a lack of specialized programming to help when they are set to return home.
Center for Community Alternatives (CCA), an organization which spans New York City, Syracuse and Rochester, works to address this gap in youth re-entry services through its recently formed Next Generation Neighborhood Network (Next Gen). The network is composed of 12 organizations working together to provide the necessary support to help youth re-enter the community and make choices that will lead them to future success.
Thursday, Feb. 3, CCA held a Zoom session, “Empowering the Next Generation,” to offer information about the network, which has been offered for the past year. The organization’s goal was to encourage donors to support the program to make a greater impact moving forward through fundraising.
“While there are a plethora of re-entry organizations that cater to adults, young people were leaving detention without even a MetroCard. For us, this notable disparity begs the question, how can we expect them to do different when we are not providing them with any type of supportive services?” said Glenn Rodriguez, CCA’s director of juvenile facilities and re-entry.
Two of the network’s organizations, The Kite and Audio Pictures, offered video presentations during the session detailing the nature of their work. They discussed how Next Gen provided them with the resources to change the lives of 13- to 25-year-olds facing the daunting reality of the re-entry process. Only first names were used to identify participants of the network’s services.
The Kite is a re-entry program for New York City’s incarcerated youth and adults focused on storytelling. Gigi Blanchard, founder of the program, uses her history of incarceration from her adolescence and her passion for writing and storytelling to help youth take back their voices and get the chance to write about their own stories.
The Kite’s video included a story from a participant named Matt in which he described his positive experience with the organization and how it changed his life by helping him find community and work opportunities. As a young father, he was able to receive the support needed to show up for his family, and he is now teaching his own class for young fathers through the organization. Both Blanchard and Matt sat in on the session and described their goals for the upcoming year.
“The beating heart of The Kite is storytelling, so a lot of what we do is create the space so people can share their stories,” Blanchard said. “Last year, we were able to really learn a lot with Next Gen, [helping] young people like Matt and getting him out on the job and really finding out what it is that they need to learn. What we could do better in this next year, now that we know what we need to teach, is going to be digging our heels in.”
Audio Pictures, another New York City-based organization, presented its video next and introduced its mission to “amplify the sounds of the unsung,” by providing youth with a way to produce music and learn how to navigate the industry as a channel of purpose-filled re-entry. Audio Pictures’ video introduced Ryan Burvick, the founder of the organization and Brandon, a participant.
“Last year, with the opportunity to work with Next Gen, it finally gave us the opportunity to finish what we started inside the correctional facilities. A lot of the students have shown great talent and great ambition to become more than just words between lines on the page. I had a studio space, which was going to be used as a basic recording studio. When the opportunity for Next Gen came, [it] basically turned this space into a full-fledged education center,” Burvick said.
After the video, Brandon spoke to the impact Burvick has had on his life. He shared how Burvick helped him create a safe space to focus on music as a creative outlet and stay away from situations that could land him in trouble.
“Ryan’s like a partner I never had. It’s not just about me doing music and learning how to engineer, it’s life lessons, too,” Brandon said. He explained that while it is a big goal of his to get his music on different platforms, he also wants to set himself up for the next step that will keep him from ending back in the system.
Members of the CCA board and other members of the organization shared their heartfelt appreciation for the two organizations and for the participants’ openness in sharing their stories.
Next, CCA’s board president Daniel Arshack kicked off the donating portion of the evening, urging the nearly 100 Zoom attendees to help CCA continue to provide community services.
“I know that you’ve been touched by what you’ve heard. If you’ve been touched, and you want to support this and own a piece of this, please help us,” Arshack said.
In the Zoom chat, people committed to donating as much as they could, and generous donors offered to match certain donation milestones to encourage others to contribute. Pledges ranged from $25 to $5,000.
Before the session’s conclusion, Laurel Rinaldi, director of youth services, reiterated the work done in the first year of the Next Generation Neighborhood Network.
“We’ve worked with 438 youth in our first year, both in and out of facilities; 145 young people have been connected to the community-based organizations like Audio Pictures and The Kite in the first year. Our vision for the Next Gen Network is that it will continue to grow. We want to increase funding for existing partners like those that you heard from today, as well as new partners covering more neighborhoods and opening new career pathways for young people citywide,” Rinaldi said.
According to the Rinaldi, Next Gen’s re-entry services are currently only open to New York City residents. In the future, CCA hopes to expand the network to the rest of the state.
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Sarah Dolgin is a journalism student at the Newhouse School