An adolescent male from the inner city was on the brink of being considered a lost cause. An appointed mentor in his intervention program was closing up his case. Luckily the bleak state of affairs turned bright thanks to the Civic League of Greater New Brunswick.
“At one point he was clearly on the path to a juvenile detention center. One more offense and he would have been out of chances.” said Sean A. Hewitt, program coordinator of the new Crossroads to Success program for at-risk minority youth, which is helping redirect young lives.
“We recognized his potential and said, ‘listen, this is something you want to be involved in.’ Now he’s gone to his principal and said ‘you haven’t seen me in your office, have you?’ I’m going to hang with different people and I’m going to do different things,” Hewitt said
An initial objective of Crossroads to Success is to pick up where schools often drop off in addressing academic issues and learning deficiencies that adolescent males have by offering them academic coaching on an individual basis.
The program focuses on boys ages 14 to 18 and students first pass through the Civic League’s Inner-City Scholars’ program or the “Learn to Earn” summer program. Thirty young men will matriculate throughout the length of the school year. School administrations have worked as a partner in the process of identifying young males at risk and recommending them for Crossroads to Success.
Funding came from a state grant as the project proposed was the only youth-centered initiative in its class.
C. Roy Epps, President and CEO of the Civic League, said the decision to go after funding was made because a three-year grant was possible. The grant totals $369,000 over three years, released in annual sums.
“We have the ability to look over things longitudinally and we are on track to affect anywhere from 130 to 150 males in our community,” he said.
Hewitt and Epps said that at-risk teenagers face adversity related to self-esteem, anger management, family dynamic issues with the lack of a father or significant man in the household and sometimes clinical issues such as depression and anxiety, bereavement.
Students are asked to recommend the program to their friends and classmates, with these teens as likely liaisons as those in the program come prepackaged with ambition.
“Our young people have goals, whether they are realistic and attainable is another question. Our process is to make them recognize what they have to do to survive,” Epps said.
Crossroads to Success was designed as a modern, astute helping hand to attaining success. Most young men are on Facebook and Twitter and have email. Hewitt said some lectures engage today’s tech-savvy youth in conversations about social networking responsibility, making comments online, and posting pictures because it all matters once you work.
Equally important as a strategic focus, is traditional soft skills and presenting a proper image. Eye contact, firm handshake, pants on your waist, and appropriate dress for the business world are all incorporated. To boot, Epps, a PhD, and Hewitt walk around activities carrying a packet of belts at all times. In case any boy’s pants are sagging they will hand them a belt.
“Every young man also knows when they’re in our presence, at least, that their pants have to be pulled up. No hats are allowed in the building, no stocking caps, nothing that can draw attention to you in the real world,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt, who has a graduate degree in public administration from Walden University, began working with the league in 2004 before joining New Brunswick High School where he was an integral part of the School-based Youth Services program focused on employment and social character development.
“This is all about exposure. Once we put them in the real world and they see us walking around with shirts and ties, with pants around our waist, holding doors for others and taking our hats off, then they begin to understand that it’s about integrity, self-esteem, self-pride and self-worth,” he said.
The Civic League emphasizes career aspirations. Student is required to go online and take career-matching aptitude tests to seek out professions that interest them.
Crossroads to Successcreated a series of “Overnight Connectors” where the significant male person in a youth’s family or a mentor is invited to participate in panels and workshops to help the young men focus on character development.
The group’s last Overnight Connector was held was in January in East Brunswick. Its first session was titled “Making Your Dreams a Reality” where boys learned how to take their current behaviors into account in planning for long-term goals and mapping out future steps.
The second part was focused on civil rights, detailing an individual’s rights as a U.S. citizen and ways to interact with authority figures, including police officers and public officials.
Another method of motivation is making notable people accessible to youths in the program. Epps and Hewitt spoke of three young men who showed an interest in criminal justice. The boys were taken on a tour of the New Brunswick Police Department and introduced to lieutenants and sergeants as a firsthand glance at the profession.
“They’ll now be acquainted with the process and the career - how do you become a police officer as well as what happens when you are a police officer and live that daily routine,” Hewitt said.
Epps also took the present group to Crossroads Theatre and Delta’s restaurant where the proprietor, Joshua Suggs, spoke to them about how he began in business and has maintained his business.
“He explained the process of how you can set up a restaurant and how you have various laws that govern the production of food, the safety of food, etc. It’s really an introduction that hopefully piques their interest,” Epps said.
Local roots matter to inspire our youth. Hewitt reflected on how the program is tailored to the New Brunswick community, which he says differs from places like Newark because we’re “very family-centered, parochial and generational.”
“It’s one thing to have Obama come speak to our young men; it’s another thing to have someone who lives on Remsen Avenue who made it out and became a firefighter. He could tell them ‘I went to Paul Robeson School, I went to New Brunswick High and I was able to do these things. The best impact would be a tangible situation relevant to their experience,” Hewitt said.
Along with a fresh sense of pride comes the virtue of social consciousness. Epps said students have the responsibility to share what they learn from the program with those coming behind them. In this effect a youth will not only serve as a model of success and future mentor to their peers and siblings, but as in-person marketing for joining an impactful program. Hewitt spoke fondly of one youth, Jose, an older brother with two younger brothers at home, who has the potential to build for his whole family.
“Jose comes from a single-parent household (mother only) so he’s the man of the house. He is responsible for looking out for his younger brothers. As we continue to look out for Jose and notice that his brothers are coming in the pipeline, he will then have the responsibility of mentoring them and ushering them into the program, making sure that all three of them mature and eventually achieve their goals,’ Hewitt said.