The Door: CJII Featured Grantee

Posted in: Blog

Posted on November 28, 2017

The Door is an unparalleled model for youth development, offering a comprehensive range of integrated services within a single site for nearly 10,000 New York City youth annually. At The Door, youth can access health care and education, mental health counseling and crisis assistance, legal assistance, college preparation services, career development, housing supports, arts, sports and recreational activities, and nutritious meals—all for free and under one roof. For over 45 years, The Door has seen first-hand how a hub model helps youth overcome even the most complicated and persistent barriers impacting their ability to thrive.

We spoke with Julie Shapiro, executive director, about some of the challenges facing youth and how CJII is supporting their work to address those challenges.

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 its 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 The Door, how are you building partnerships to ensure sustainability?

A: Too often, social service providers work in silos. The creation of Youth Opportunity Hubs is a significant step in easing some of that isolation and encouraging creativity, collaboration, and integrated service provision. As these are all principles that The Door believes in deeply and that have shaped the direction of our work for the past 45 years, we are thrilled to see them supported by CJII.

In this city, where resources can often feel scarce, it’s absolutely necessary to work together with our partners to combine forces and leverage each of our strengths. Bringing all of this expertise together means that we are creating the strongest possible network of support for young New Yorkers. Over time, these linkages will become self-sustaining as we collectively build evidence that they improve outcomes for youth.

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: The Youth Opportunity Hub project through CJII provides an opportunity to bring together a broad range of service providers in a connected, cohesive way. Very much in line with The Door’s comprehensive services model, funding from CJII is allowing us to branch out and build stronger relationships with partner organizations throughout the city. Through this initiative, we have the opportunity to both enhance our existing partnerships and to form new ones with organizations who are doing work we admire—all with the goal of creating more streamlined resources for young people who need them the most.

Through the Hub, we are now able to offer deeper and more individualized supports to 1,500 young people each year. These include a proven model of tutoring and homework help for foster care youth through New York Foundling; additional supports for high school students in Washington Heights with Fresh Youth Initiatives; counseling to address substance abuse through Arms Acres; help accessing public benefits through University Settlement; resources for young parents through Sheltering Arms; and better support for court-involved youth with CASES and Avenues for Justice. We will have stronger connections to our employment programs and to culinary training with Project Renewal and IT training with Per Scholas. Those with intensive mental health needs will receive more care coordination from additional on-site staff. Young people will also have critical outlets for expression and growth through opportunities to work with some of the world’s premier art institutions: Whitney Museum of American Art and Carnegie Hall. Participants will be able to access our Hub at our main site in SoHo, in their Manhattan neighborhoods, and throughout the City. We are confident that this wide network of services will help young people remove stumbling blocks in their lives and pave the way toward achievement of their goals.

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: Door members face a variety of challenges in their lives and in their communities. The most significant are housing instability, disruption in education, inability to find and sustain work, and mental health issues. Additionally, we see many young people facing immigration challenges, and the work, education, and stability issues that accompany them. Moreover, 11% of our young people have been involved in the child welfare system, and 17% have been involved in the justice system. Many lack supportive adult role models in their lives to help guide them towards a better future.

Amazia, a 20-year-old Door member, has bounced around a lot and has had a sometimes-challenging relationship with his family. But he’s always had goals: to be an engineer, a creator. Paying for school was a daunting obstacle, so he came to The Door to find work. Not only did our staff help him find his first job, we also helped him enroll in college so he could start studying engineering. He says, “I’ve learned to see myself through the eyes of people who want me to succeed. I deserve good things if I have the passion, the drive, and make the time.”

Jemirah will tell you that she “was forced to grow up when I was really young and rely on myself—I didn’t have anyone else to turn to.” She struggled to find trusting, supportive adults, and home life was difficult.

She came to The Door after her brother succeeded in getting his high school equivalency here. While attending Broome Street Academy, our charter high school, she joined our arts program and built her confidence and skills through coaching and performances. She found the love and support from our staff that she’d been searching for. “They saw my talent and really put effort into me—that was a new experience.” She built her resume and is now a scholarship student at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy, with dreams of being on Broadway.

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

A: Real systemic challenges create what can seem like insurmountable obstacles for our young people. Often, they find themselves caught between systems working in competing ways, including the foster care system, the justice system, the educational system, housing, and benefits. Navigating these very complex and ever-changing arenas is often overwhelming.

Moreover, there is a significant lack of resources for young adults facing some of the most challenging situations, including those seeking mental health care and stable housing. The lack of high quality, affordable, easily-accessed supports for older adolescents and young adults is especially acute, because their age can make them too old for child welfare and other youth-focused services and too young for adult-serving structures. Young people often struggle to bring together their multiple providers, to advocate for themselves, and to maintain the organizational skills necessary to satisfy multiple sets of expectations and requirements.  Families can get discouraged when seeking resources and may be unsure of how to best support their adolescent and young adult children.

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

A: In our early planning stages, we have already seen many of our partner organizations start to work together in new and creative ways, which is inspiring and exciting. Some have worked together in the past, and we look forward to continuing and expanding those relationships. We have found that simply by raising awareness of the programs and services that are available in the city and connecting some key players, organic partnerships have begun to form to support young people.

Fresh Youth Initiatives, supporting students at Gregorio Luperón High School in Washington Heights, was originally slated to work with 50 students. However, due to their commitment to the project, and with our increased capacity through the Hub, all Gregorio Luperón students will have access to additional services. We recently learned that one of the students just got placed in housing with support from Door staff.

Many partners have already begun to send students to The Door for supportive services, and we have been thrilled to expand our reach into new communities. We expect to see this trend continue and are excited to connect young people to as many resources as possible. Long-term, we plan to increase young people’s social connectedness and help them realize goals in education, employment, housing, and well-being.

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 The Door is reaching toward larger system change? What does that system change look like? What else is needed to achieve larger system change?

A: Because we work with 10,000 young people each year, we are often able to identify larger trends and challenges in New York City. Being a Youth Hub gives us the opportunity to address these systemic challenges by creating a formal network of support with 11 partners. Through the Hub, we hope to build further evidence that our integrated, co-located model works. Our aspiration is that this evidence is taken up by the youth development field—including the various public and private entities that support it—so that this model can be scaled and replicated to support even larger numbers of youth in New York City and beyond. If public agencies and systems mirror this type of coordinated approach, we then have the potential to do something truly significant to level the playing field for young people.

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