Hancy Adelcat lost both his parents early in his life. With no stable place to live or adults to care for him, he fell under the influence of a criminal element and lost all hope for a productive future. Then he was referred to the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, where he entered the Urban Youth Empowerment Program – known as UYEP. There, under the guidance of a senior advocate counselor, Cheanatha Vaughn, and a career coach, Parks Sims, Adelcat not only gained a sense of self-esteem but harnessed his passion for cooking and found a way to build that passion into a career and a bright future.
The UYEP program began in April of 2013 as a two-year youth development program funded by the US Department of Labor through the National Urban League, with a goal of connecting out-of-school and unemployed youth with high demand career pathways, education and employment that will lead them to the middle class. The Urban League of Greater Atlanta was one of 10 affiliates chosen through a competitive bid process to receive funding. Eligibility required participants to be 18- to 24-year-old men and women who either did not complete high school or have had a brush with the law. The 115 participants also had to come from neighborhoods suffering from economic challenges.
Adelcat met all those criteria. After he secured his GED, he enrolled in post-secondary courses and entered a culinary arts program that he has attended for more than a year. At the same time, UYEP counselors helped him prepare to get a job working in his new chosen field in food preparation. He secured a job in a restaurant that was willing to be flexible with his work schedule so he could continue his culinary arts training while gaining practical experience. At 21 years old and a year into the program, Adelcat gets a regular paycheck, a stipend to attend school, and has moved into his own apartment. He is living independently and is positively focused on his chosen career and has a dream of one day owning a restaurant.
[pullquote align=”left”]”I never thought I would be doing the things I am doing. With the help and support from the Urban League and the UYEP staff, my dreams are becoming a reality,” Adelcat said.[/pullquote]
Others in the program are planning for careers as auto mechanics, dental hygienists, entrepreneurs and nurses; and they are committed to changing the trajectory of their lives.
“The participants come to us with little to no skills to compete in the marketplace. We help them gain the valuable life skills that they need to succeed. We have a rigorous schedule that requires an eight-class minimum, including courses in anger management, effective communications, effective decision-making, stress management and critical thinking, to name a few,” said Tracey Mosley, program director of the ULGA Empowerment Center.
“We also have each student take a job readiness course that teaches them how to create a resume, complete an employment application, interviewing skills, job sustainability and how to overcome objections to a criminal background, for instance,” Mosley added. “We try to match them with an industry sector that is strong in Georgia and aligns with their career interests. We focus on sectors that can provide them with a sustainable income that will meet their living needs. We don’t aim for minimum wage jobs, because the minimum wage without the pursuit of education can lock a person into poverty.”
The incentive-based program ties stipends and funds for transportation to achievements and community service.
“It’s all achievement-based and goal-oriented,” Mosley said. “If you improve reading and math levels or pass the GED, secure employment or enroll in post-secondary coursework, you get a stipend based on that. We also set the participants up for giving back to their communities through service.”
UYEP is more than a training program. It takes a holistic approach to developing young men and women to pursue their career passions and become leaders and responsible citizens ready to contribute to their communities. UYEP coaches and case managers also go to bat for their students who are on track and doing the right thing.
“We are advocates for our youth who are working hard to succeed and will go to court on their behalf. They can get fines reduced or we can be used as a diversion program where they can fulfill their obligations to the justice system. We stay in close contact with the criminal justice system,” to allow the participants to stay out of jail and on the path to productive lives”, Mosley said.
UYEP has produced such significant positive impact on the youth in the program that the ULGA is committed to continuing it, to help more vulnerable young people turn the tide of their lives to become proud economically empowered citizens that give back to their communities.
The funding for UYEP is scheduled to end early this year. “With the help of our partners, we are committed to continue operating this program to support these 115 young adults and many more like them in the Greater Atlanta region,” said Nancy Flake Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta. “These youth deserve the opportunity to tap into their talents and skills, secure the education they need to pursue the career of their dreams and move to the middle class. With UYEP everybody and our entire community wins.”
“With local graduation rates around 60 percent, and the incarceration of young African American men and women reaching record levels, it has become vital that we do everything we can to confront these issues and find real solutions for our community. We feel that UYEP is one answer to these issues. We are seeking new partners and funding that will allow us to continue this program indefinitely,” Mosley said. “This kind of proven system goes a long way toward empowering our youth and stabilizing our communities that have been hard hit by crime and economic downturns.”