Henry Street Settlement: CJII Featured Grantee

Posted in: Blog

Posted on December 5, 2017

Henry Street Settlement, a Youth Opportunity Hub grantee, addresses the effects of urban poverty by helping families achieve better lives for themselves and their children. Based on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Henry Street delivers a wide range of social service, arts and health care programs to more than 60,000 New Yorkers each year. We spoke with David Garza, executive director, about some of the challenges facing youth and how CJII is supporting their work to address those issues.

This article is the part of our series highlighting CJII grantees and the work they’re doing to meet CJII goals of improving public safety and enhancing fairness and efficiency in NYC’s criminal justice system. Programs that support families and that prevent risky behavior in young people can encourage and support positive development and reduce the likelihood of involvement in the justice system. Through the Youth Opportunity Hubs initiative, CJII is focusing on building skills and supports among young people, families, and communities to help prevent crime because investing in efforts that prevent criminality is key to achieving public safety in the long term.

Q: How do you see the role of partnerships and coordinating services in achieving impact? In your experience, and as you develop the Youth Opportunity Hub at Henry Street Settlement, how are you building partnerships to ensure sustainability?

A:  Partnerships and coordination is central to our model and to the success of this initiative.  In developing the hub, our primary partners have been at the table every step of the way, from hiring program staff to developing our model and designing our programming.  Our primary partners will host full-time social work staff on-site who will serve as the critical links between our organizations.  Our secondary partners will be instrumental in providing key additional supports such as legal assistance, substance abuse counseling, career enrichment opportunities, and a broad spectrum of additional services for the youth involved in our program with the goal of establishing long-term community partners and building future capacity.

Q: What are some of the potential solutions you aim to provide with the CJII funding to support young people and help them succeed

A:  CJII Youth Opportunity Hub funding has provided Henry Street the ability to partner with every other Settlement House on the Lower East Side to create a comprehensive network of support.  Being part of the network, each organization will receive the resources necessary to deploy trained social workers who will be able to help connect young people and families to a broad spectrum of supportive programming and services.  Their ability to make a supported referral and help provide facilitated access to a broad range of programs will increase the likelihood that our young people will be able to follow through and receive the intended impact of the service.  As a result of these relationships, we believe that more of our young people will persist and achieve academic success; graduating from high school, connecting to our programs that support college access and retention, and, ultimately, graduate from college.  As our young people explore careers through our internship and vocational programs, they will discover career options and learn the skills necessary to access and maintain meaningful employment.  By addressing the primary and behavioral health needs of our young people, and supporting their development through adolescence, we will foster adults who are self-actualized and healthier.  Collectively, we believe that our engagement and support of the youth we serve will help them succeed academically, vocationally, socially, avoid the criminal justice system, live healthier lives, and contribute to the well-being and success of their families and communities.

Q: What are some of the opportunities that young people are looking for, and what are some of the obstacles or challenges in trying to access those opportunities?

A:  The young people and families that we work with have tremendous strengths.  They are creative, driven, and incredibly resourceful.  However, they do encounter some significant barriers to success, not the least of which is systemic racism, which has contributed to intergenerational poverty for many of the families with which we work. Many of our young people have experienced trauma through exposure to street violence, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Many of our families struggle to achieve stable living situations and to obtain and maintain employment.

As a community with a strong tradition of supporting immigrant populations, the Lower East Side continues to host a number of families who are new to the United States.  These families face additional obstacles, having little or no English proficiency and/or the ability to access work legally.  Additionally, the communities in which we work experience a disproportionate level of mental health issues and chronic illnesses including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, asthma, and diabetes.  Access to behavioral and primary healthcare has also long been a barrier to our families.

As the result of the confluence of these issues, many of our young people struggle to complete high school, navigate college, and sustain stable employment.  Because of these challenges, some of our young people have turned to gangs and engaged in alternative means to achieve economic stability including drug dealing, prostitution, and crime.  In addition to these issues, our young people also experience concerns that are endemic to adolescents everywhere: learning to regulate their emotions effectively, struggling with low self-esteem, managing interpersonal conflict, engaging in healthy relationships, and learning to advocate for themselves.

Q: What are some of the real challenges in trying to remove or overcome those obstacles?

A:  One of the primary challenges in addressing these issues has been the lack of coordination among multiple systems and service providers.  Though many resources exist to support families and young people, there has not always been adequate support to make sure that they can successfully navigate the landscape of services available to them.  Another obstacle is that many providers simply lack the capacity to inform schools and other community organizations about available services and how they can effectively connect the young people they encounter who need assistance to the resource best positioned to help them.

Q: What outcomes have you seen so far and what do you hope to see long term?

A:  Though too early in our implementation to have seen many of the outcomes we will ultimately see as the result of our program design, we have seen a tremendous initial outpouring of support and participation in this initiative from our community partners.  We have been able to coordinate and work together in a way that is unprecedented, and we hope that in long-term this will translate to success by positioning us to resolve the barriers that prevent many of our young people from successfully accessing supportive programming that could be life-saving, which is the ultimate outcome.

Q: Taking a step back, when you consider the Youth Opportunity Hub in the long term—the individuals you’re working with, their needs, community needs, long term outcomes, etc.—how would you say that the work of Henry Street Settlement is reaching toward larger system change? What does that system change look like? What else is needed to achieve larger system change?

A:  We believe that the key to achieving systemic change is to listen to our community, empower our young people, and continue to provide a platform for community members to be leaders and the agents of progress and change.  We are working together to build a society where all people have equal opportunity and the heights of their success are not dictated by the circumstances of their birth.  In order to do that we must continue to empower our youth, develop their talents and skills, provide opportunities for growth and success, and continue to advocate for fair and equal treatment for all. As both a service provider and an organization that invests deeply in policy and advocacy work, we also will work with the education, legal and other systems which impact the lives of our youth.  We are committed to elevating issues and making recommendations regarding policies and practices that can be improved, refined, and corrected that will help young people achieve their goals and our goals for them.  This will require the collective involvement of all the Hubs to identify systemic challenges and develop a recommended platform for change.

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