Jennifer (Jen) Schmitt Perry ’86 is the Program Manager for Reinvesting in Youth (RIY), a multi-agency community collaboration in Rochester, NY that serves youth impacted by the juvenile justice system. Targeting people ages 11 to 17 living in neighborhoods of high need, RIY seeks to provide a community-based alternative to detention at critical moments of involvement with law enforcement.
Recently, Jen was interviewed about a program for at-risk teens in Rochester. Shakespeare is helping them learn about choices and consequences. You can watch it here, starting around the fifteen minute mark.
“We serve youth and their families throughout the juvenile justice continuum, from those engaging in truant behavior to those who have been formally adjudicated by the family court system,” explained Jennifer.
RIY is structured as a three- to five-month program during which each youth/family is assigned a team of three providers, who work to connect youth and their families with local resources, and to foster emotional growth of the youth.
Upon the start of the program, providers immediately take care of basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, after which the providers can hone in on the emotional needs of the youth.
“Building the social emotional skills of our youth is an essential part of what we do,” said Jennifer. “Our goal is to support youth and families in increasing self-awareness, and empowering them to take control over their lives.”
RIY aims to nurture the strengths of each youth, rather than focusing on weaknesses. Providers help the young people identify things they feel passionate about, and then connect them with resources like dance or music programs that nurture these passions.
Jennifer added that a secondary but no less critical goal of RIY is to support staff in understanding and caring for their own needs. “Burn-out in our field is high,” said Jennifer. “We try, at RIY, to live by example and that means prioritizing self-care for staff first.”
The touchstone of RIY is listening, both in the context of staff interactions and their work with young people.
“The first step is listening deeply to people’s stories. They are the ones who can tell them most powerfully and are ultimately in control of how their story ends,” said Jennifer. “We are simply there as a resource and to reflect what we hear, share what we have, connect threads for reflection and empower their voices.”