week 50: this week i'm gonna... help "impact youth" succeed
Jamel was 17 when he took part in an armed robbery. He then served 18 months in Massachusetts’ Middleton House of Corrections. When he was released, he floated from dead-end job to dead-end job while also battling drug addiction.
"I was really down and out. I was near homelessness,” he said. At rock bottom, Jamel reached out to UTEC, a nonprofit organization based in Lowell, MA that encourages young people to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. “I picked up the phone one day, and I just called them,” he said.
An hour later, a Streetworker from UTEC was at his door. “They know where we come from, what we’re about. They’ve been through the struggle,” he said. Some UTEC Streetworkers have been incarcerated and others have battled addiction, just like Jamel.
Jamel, along with many other young people in Lowell, find it hard to escape the street. Street life is “fast living,” he states, and it takes a lot of willpower and support to leave. Of the young people UTEC worked with in FY16, 86% had a criminal record, 77% were gang-involved, 80% had no high school credentials, and 44% were pregnant or parenting. 95% of them fell into more than one of these categories.
Just like Jamel, these young people need more than support. They need someplace to go and something to do. They need to feel valued.
Jamel credits UTEC for saving him. He is now in his early twenties and enrolled full-time in UTEC’s paid workforce development program. Jamel notes that UTEC's program teaches him how to work with people, giving him skills that will lead to internships and jobs. In short, UTEC helps him redefine his future.
UTEC is about peace, positivity, and empowerment. UTEC's mission is to ignite and nurture the ambition of disconnected young people to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. UTEC reaches approximately 1,000 young people each year aged 17-25 who are likely to have a major impact on society based on their status as gang- or criminally-involved. UTEC refers to this group as impact youth to frame this population as a positive opportunity rather than as a liability or deficit.
UTEC's nationally recognized intervention model begins with intensive street outreach and gang peacemaking. They then pair youth with a transitional coach who works with them on a wide set of goals, including learning new skills through the workforce development program and resuming their education with academic classes. Social justice and civic engagement values are embedded in all programming, with special emphasis on local and statewide organizing and policy making work. UTEC also has a gym, a recording studio, and an event space. Their facilities and enrichment opportunities provide a place for youth to hang out and connect with each other in the afternoons.
Ultimately, the pathway outlined by UTEC's theory of change results in three specific outcome areas for their young people: reduced recidivism and criminal activity, increased employability, and increased educational attainment.
You can learn more about UTEC's model in the video below.
UTEC was founded in 1999 by young people, when 30 high school students and older youth who were looking for an escape from gang violence met with adult volunteers, the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association, and representatives from the City of Lowell to create the teen center. With an initial grant of $40,000, they hired Gregg Croteau as their director. Today, UTEC reaches out to about 1,000 young people a year and has a $5 million budget.
“Young people were really the ones who stood up and said we needed to have a safe haven,” said Croteau. Young people like Jamel, who said people in his life had given up on him -- parents, family, teachers. At UTEC, he found adults who don't give up. "We design our programs to be eight or nine or ten chances. We’ve built-in relapse,” states Croteau.
One of UTEC's core values is unconditionally accepting each person where he or she is at. This can mean many different things -- prison, gang-involvement, drug addiction, pregnancy, or homelessness. But what UTEC knows is that these young people are at a point of opportunity; when they have just been arrested, for example, they are at a critical point of change. UTEC staff often ask participants, “Where are you at and where do you want to be?” Then UTEC guides them along the path to get there.
“Be relentless,” Croteau says. “Never give up. Keep chipping away.”
Notes for this week:
- Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor HiSET testing (formerly GED testing) for approximately 4 or 5 young people ready to earn their high school credentials.
- For more information regarding UTEC, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to UTEC.