A new training program for youth mentors will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Youth Study Center, 1100 Milton St., in Gentilly.
InsideOut is designed to create a “wrap-around service” to help youths who have been on the inside of the juvenile justice system to “stay on the right track” once they are out, according to Leroy Crawford, a founder of the free training program.
The program teaches moral responsibility through group-based activities, and the training is available for those in schools, homes, churches, anywhere there are youth. The open house will be “hands-on,” where participants can learn about tools they can use to work with youth.
InsideOut works with boys and girls in two age groups, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17. They want to establish community partners that will provide safe houses throughout the community, offering free space to provide services through the program. The mentors already have met with youth on the outside at a local church to take them to the Audubon Zoo.
Crawford is assistant superintendent and training coordinator at the Youth Study Center, a part of New Orleans’ juvenile court. The mentoring program has been piloted at the juvenile detention center and designed through talking to the youth who end up there. They asked them what kind of system of support they could use when they get out, to not make the wrong choices again. The youth were interested in a group program, rather than one-on-one mentoring, Crawford said. Activities will be held every two weeks to emphasize what Crawford calls the human side: “It’s not what make us different but what make us the same.”
What Crawford and others have learned working with and talking to youth arrested for a wide range of crimes who end up “inside,” also can help create better outcomes for youth “outside.” The detention center houses up to 40 preadjudicated youths awaiting determination if they will go to trial, be moved to another facility, put on an ankle motoring system or released back into the community, he said.
It’s not about a “case”; it’s about how that kid went astray, Crawford said.
“Many are trying to raise themselves, but the kids in here can tell you how they went wrong,” Crawford said. Sometimes they see the youngest have a lot of street sense and may have the responsibilities of a 17-year-old, but they have not learned moral responsibility.
“We are trying to get them to be kids again,” and become something else through a program with “solution-focused mentors,” he said.
Crawford was raised in the St. Bernard Housing Project with two working parents. He knows the challenges the youths face.
“But where you come from is no longer an excuse.” He said the youth need to learn they are morally responsible for what they do.
Sometime people don’t know what issues the youth are facing in their lives, which includes lies, peer pressure and what he calls “myths.” They often live in past traditions of rivalries based on competition in sports “or where you went to school,” he said. The schools may no longer exist, but those rivalries and boundaries are real to them, Crawford said.
Sometimes it’s not until the youth end up together in the detention facility that they learn they could be friends, he said.
“They believe they can’t get along” but find after detention they forget where they are from. He said mentors can help to dispel myths.
It’s a slow process but one he wants to see happen before they get in trouble.
Crawford finds adults are struggling as well with how to reach their own children or those they come in contact with through their jobs, churches and schools.
“Good kids need mentors too,” he said. He wants to “give parents what we teach them, so they have these tools inside the home.”
Crawford went to St. Augustine High School and to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He’s worked more than 16 years with youth, beginning in group homes.
“When you get to see these kids and so much potential they didn’t get to exhibit,” it’s a problem that goes beyond the crime. Crawford said they see youth from homes with two working parents. Sometimes the last time they talked to their dad was by text.
“They’re looking for love, for people to talk to them and be there for them,” he said.
InsideOut also will provide speakers for organizations that want to know more about their work. For information, call (504) 610-4184 or visit www.iompnola.com.