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New Philadelphia Youth Network program will explore justice careers

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Thanks to a two-year $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) is piloting a program to help troubled youth pursue careers in law enforcement and emergency services.

Starting in July, 250 high school students ages 16-21 who are at risk or are involved in the court system and are two years away from graduating will have an opportunity to get themselves back on track.

The program, called Pathways to Justice Careers, is a collaboration among PYN, JEVS Human Services, Public Health Management Corp. (PHMC), and Police Athletic League (PAL). PYN will manage the collaboration, and JEVS will provide case management, career exposure, and work experience. PHMC and PAL will handle mentoring services, where participants will receive guidance from law enforcement and emergency service professionals.

Case managers will work within District schools to reach out to students. .

“[For] our students to be able to be provided this opportunity, to experience that firsthand, in a safe and nurturing environment, would only strengthen our community ties as well as give our students a real good prospect for the future,” said Antonio Romero, community schools coordinator at Kensington Health Sciences Academy.

In its launch, Pathways will first work with PYN’s WorkReady program, which provides summer employment and career training to youth throughout the city.

Participants in Pathways will work at one of 807 worksites spanning across 18 industries to gain basic experience in a professional setting that will carry over to their justice career training, said Tara Mullen, director of youth services at JEVS.

“Young people need and often benefit from exposure in all 21st-century skills,” said Mullen, who also acts as director of the E3 center at JEVS.

“It has to do with cooperation, workplace soft-skills, and really exposing our young people to the workforce in general.”

In addition to gaining work experience, PHMC subsidiary WorkForce Institute, which is also contracted with WorkReady for employment services, will conduct the mentoring with bi-weekly advisory panels of three criminal justice and emergency service professionals such as police officers, lawyers, and EMS workers.

The panels will begin June 3 and will run for the duration of the PJC program, which ends in fall 2018. After each session, the professionals will be assigned a youth to follow up with and support further for up to six months.

“We’re not doing your traditional big brother, big sister where somebody comes into your life and they’re supposed to be your lifeline,” said Wendy-Anne Johnson, executive director of the Workforce Institute.

“The role that we have with mentoring is focusing much more on the professional development side.”

Mentoring will take place at schools or another location that is convenient for the student, said Johnson.

The program is only slated for two years, and it is too early to tell whether PYN will continue the program beyond that, said Christina Clark, communications and marketing associate for PYN. In the meantime, they hope to learn and share best practices for serving at-risk youth.

Romero, who also serves on the advisory board for the 26th Police District, said that in addition to introducing students to the career possibilities in law enforcement, Pathways provides a chance to bridge the connections between youth and the police.

“Instead of separation, what we need is to work in unison with each other,” he said. “And the more you learn through communication with each other, the better.”

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