Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP), a proven, cost-effective alternative to prisons, group foster care, behavioral health and other residential placements for youth and vulnerable adults, celebrates 40 years in New Jersey. YAP, which at any given time serves 1,000 youth and families in the state, will honor people who contributed to its success at an anniversary ceremony July 20, 2018 at Monmouth University.

YAP supports youth who would otherwise be in some type of out-of-home placement, like youth prison or residential treatment and adults with disabilities and other health needs who also face placement away from home. YAP hires advocates from the neighborhoods where the youth and families it serves live. Through these neighborhood advocates, YAP helps youth and adults design blueprints for their success while providing them and their parents/families tools to reinforce their supports and strengthen their foundations. YAP also helps those it serves identify ways to give back to their communities.

“YAP’s success comes from our unique mission and service delivery principles; services tailored to each individual youth and family, a strength-based approach, and hiring staff from local neighborhoods,” said YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer, whose decades of advocacy work include expanding YAP to 23 states and overseas.

Referrals come to YAP through child welfare, juvenile justice, public health, educational, substance use, behavioral health, workforce development, intellectual and developmental disability, autism and other agencies. New Jersey YAP (NJYAP) started providing services in NJ in 1978 with a contract to provide services in Camden County for the Division of Youth and Family Services, now the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Headquartered in Camden County. NJYAP partners with child welfare, behavioral health and juvenile justice agencies in all 21 of the state’s counties.

As part of its July 40th anniversary program, YAP will honor staff members who have worked 20 years or more throughout New Jersey and some adults who as youth, were enrolled in the program.

Gerald Tirado, a recently hired YAP advocate, first became familiar with the program when he was 15, facing time in youth prison. Instead, the judge gave him and his parents the option to be in YAP.

Tirado’s advocate was LaQuan “Quan” Rankins, now his colleague, and the person who recruited him to join YAP as an employee.

“I was a stubborn kid and most of the time, I pretended not to pay attention to Quan. But he really made an impression on me. He was a big guy who like me, loved basketball. But more than that, he was the first person who’d sit down with both my parents and me to talk about what I was doing and how I was making progress in my life. He was also the first person who talked to me about giving back; not volunteering to get less time or to get money or some other incentive, but because he knew I had something to give.”
When he was arrested again, this time for having a concealed weapon and failing a drug test, Tirado went away for nearly a year to a youth prison camp. During his time there, he thought a lot about Rankins, especially what he said about giving back and helping others. Tirado completed high school and then went on to Middlesex Community college and from there, Rutgers University, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. Tirado’s first job was as a resource officer at Brunswick High School, where when he was a teenager, he skipped classes so often he barely remembered any teachers when he joined the staff. Then one day, he ran into someone he recognized right away. Rankins was there to visit one of his YAP mentees.

“He told me he was proud of me. He said there was a job opening at YAP for an advocate.”

In addition to working part time as a YAP advocate, Tirado, now 26, is starting a business as a personal trainer.