“I am devastated by the abrupt, violent pulling of this program,” said Jonathan McLean, chief executive officer of the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, at a City Hall rally Tuesday.
Donning shirts of various colors, members representing more than a dozen nonprofit organizations joined together at City Hall Park Tuesday to protest the city’s decision to cut a nearly decade-old program that mentors NYCHA youth.
The NextSTEPS Coalition, which stands for “Striving Towards Engagement and Peaceful Solutions” is made up of groups that help at-risk teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24.
The groups have staff mentors known as credible messengers, including NYCHA residents, some of whom had unstable upbringings themselves or experienced incarceration. Services provided through NextSTEPS include attending court cases, connecting participants with public assistance resources and even providing help to attain a driver’s license.
But on Aug. 24, NextSTEPS members received an email from the New York City Department of Probation (DOP) informing them of the termination of their contracts, and explaining that the program would have to cease within days, on Aug. 31. A subsequent email offered an extension until Sept. 22nd, according to Manhattan nonprofit Good Shepherd Services.
“I am devastated by the abrupt, violent pulling of this program,” Jonathan McLean, chief executive officer of the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), told the crowd on Tuesday.
The nonprofit, which works with youth at NYCHA’s Tompkins Houses in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, helps at-risk teens and young adults connect with education and employment opportunities while providing services such as at-home therapy.
“People often say to me: ‘It’s amazing you grew up in the projects, you did 16 years in prison, you turned your life around’—that’s all well and good,” McLean said. “But what would’ve happened to someone like me, who didn’t get the opportunity to turn their lives around?”
Reached for comment, a DOP spokesperson confirmed that the program is being suspended, attributing the decision to an annual evaluation.
“Our young people in NYCHA deserve the best resources and support that New York City has to offer, and that is what the Department of Probation provides,” DOP wrote in an email. “Based on a thorough annual evaluation, DOP has determined that young New Yorkers living in public housing can get the mentorship support they deserve through other existing programs and will not renew this $2.5 million program.”
The agency said that other DOP and citywide mentorship programs—including Arches, Blue Chips and Girl Talk—will still be available.
Dedric Hammond, also known as “Be-Loved,” is a credible messenger who works with a NextSTEPS organization called Living Redemption Community Development Corporation. Based in Harlem, the group works with 200 young residents living in NYCHA’s Saint Nicholas Houses.
He said the…