08/19/2020 |

The following story was shared by Program Manager Harold Atkins.

When Success Centers merged with Each One Reach One, we took on comprehensive programs for incarcerated young people: tutoring, arts, life skills, and more. For the first time in 20 years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not possible to produce those programs in the ways we once did. We cannot meet with the young people face-to-face. In fact, all programs for detention-based youth – produced by a range of community-based organizations – have come to a halt.

Success Centers has pivoted quickly, transitioning to the virtual space for programs focused on coding, community grants, high school/GED completion, employment preparation and placement, and construction training. When the Youth Service Center, a detention facility in San Mateo County, heard about what we were doing, they reached out to us, asking for programming of any kind for their incarcerated youth. We appeared to be the only organization doing something – anything – at this difficult time.

We knew we couldn’t do programs as we were accustomed, as they largely rely on one-to-one, in person work. Drawing on everything we were quickly learning, we adapted a virtual version of Keeping it Safe (KIS), a program that traditionally focuses on life skills. The result is a highly flexible curriculum that draws on programs that we have produced for transitional-aged youth and other community members. Subjects run the gamut: job readiness training, growth mindset, the economic impact of crime, how to apply for a job, HIV/STI prevention, how to present yourself on social media, healthy relationships, and more.

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But there’s more to it than that. We check in with the young people. We talk, listen, share stories, fears, and aspirations. Especially given that they receive few visitors, we are a crucial steady presence for them. A lifeline. Reflecting on it, Harold says, “My ability to make them comfortable within the program – stopping just to check in with them, not just getting through the curriculum – is key.” The program meets via livestream once per week for 90 minutes and typically serves about ten young people. It is open-ended, and we will continue it for as long as we can.

“These kids are resilient,” Harold continues. “They’re going through all of this. Imagine being locked away, unable even to get visits. You’re hearing about this COVID thing. You don’t know what’s going on with your mother, your family. I know if I was in there during a global pandemic and my family is out in the world, maybe struggling financially, it would be hard for me to focus on self-help. Yet when I’m there, they’re willing to sit down to learn what I’ve got to teach. They are rolling with it. We’ve even got two young people who are facing long-term adult incarceration,  but they are engaged. Sometimes people say it’s  because I know how to communicate with them. It’s not coming from me. It’s 100% the youth.”

Earlier this year, we did something similar at the Juvenile Justice Center in San Francisco and Thornton Continuation High School in Daly City. Those programs are paused for the summer, but we are planning to resume in the fall.

Even as the quarantine continues, Success Centers remains a critical, frontline resource for the community. The pandemic has changed the way we work, but it hasn’t stopped us.

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