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Healing, Hope and Care: Models for Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable Youth, Part II

By Katrina Mitchell on October 16, 2015

The Andrus Family Fund recognizes the role that healing, hope and care play in developing young people as well as fostering strong, vibrant communities. exalt and RYSE are good models of how this approach is being used to transform the lives of vulnerable youth.

“Because of past trauma, some of these young people are on survival mode. We emphasize the need to build students’ self confidence, focusing on their strengths. All young people have the right to thrive and explore their passions. That’s why we focus on helping them build their best possible self, healing along the way.”
Danielle Brown Fuller,
exalt Executive Director

exalt is based in Brooklyn, New York and works directly with court-involved youth. By reaching youth at a critical crossroads, exalt inspires lasting behavioral change by teaching youth to believe in their self-worth. exalt empowers their youth by developing life skills—such as how to communicate in the workplace—needed to avoid recidivism and reach their personal and professional goals. exalt’s program is responsive to the needs of young people, supports those who are motivated to change and acknowledges the barriers they face—all within a nurturing environment.

Unlike other programs, participation in exalt is completely voluntary. They believe the non-compulsory nature of their program is the reason why it is so well received by youth. Even before students are accepted into the program, exalt staff will meet with them to gauge their commitment to the program and themselves. This screening process is meant to put students at ease and motivated to change their behavior even before they set foot in a classroom.

While classes meet after school, the lessons taught at exalt cannot be found inside a traditional classroom. exalt’s core curriculum is designed to help students develop four core skills: critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication and resource management. These lessons resonate with students because they are taught within real-life situations they can relate to and connect to their lived experience. Additionally, exalt tackles the injustices stacked against their students head-on—educating them on the school-to-prison pipeline and the systemic injustices that feed it. By helping students understand these connections and realize their potential, exalt is actually counteracting the pipeline for its students.

“exalt brings out the confidence in you; it gets you to try to better yourself so that you can grow to be who you want to be in life.”
Imanii, exalt youth

Putting students on a path to employment is another important aspect of the program. Through partnerships with employers across a variety of industries, students obtain paid internships. Some students have completed internships at organizations—such as the Innocence Project and Criminal Justice Initiative—that are reforming the very criminal justice system they are a part of. Many times, this is the first job a student has had. For some, these internships have led to additional internships and permanent jobs.

Even after youth graduate from the program, exalt continues to work with students through its open door policy and alumni networking events (i.e. educational support, career exploration, college enrollment, alumni internship, etc.) that support their continuous well-being.

We are excited to be working in collaboration and supporting exalt as they raise awareness about their innovative approach to youth development, build their capacity to share promising practices and expand internship opportunities for students and alumni.

On the West Coast, another grantee partner is using its own integrated approach to transform vulnerable youth.

“At this center, youth are actually telling us what they need and we’re making it happen.”
Kimberly Aceves, RYSE Executive Director

RYSE is a youth center in Richmond, California built on the principles of social justice, youth organizing and community transformation. The center’s current response to this trifecta is a burgeoning Youth Justice program called the Restorative Options and Reentry Project (ROAR). They take a trauma-informed approach to youth development that aims to curtail involvement in the juvenile system, provide reentry supports, increase educational and employment opportunities. This model incorporates four core initiatives:

Intervention – Youth touched by the justice system can participate in an integrated 8-week program. Upon completion of the program, youth may have their arrest charges dropped and record removed.

Reentry Programming – For young people that have spent time within a facility, ROAR provides holistic reentry support, which includes individualized plans to fit the needs of each young person.

Hospital-linked Violence Intervention – In order to interrupt cycles of community violence RYSE engages young people that have been harmed by crime at their bedside. More than just a hospital visit this includes assistance with medical follow up, victims of crime compensation application, navigation with and between legal, medical, educational, and other systems, and aid in securing material and well being needs.

Career Development – With a focus on helping young people dream their own futures ROAR focuses on the booming technology industry in the Bay Area. They arm participants with skills they needed to become part of the technology sector.

By providing stabilization, recovery and healing, ROAR believes that it can transform the lives of young people and the communities they come from. We are proud to partner and learn from their model.

In the final installment of our first Healing, Hope and Care blog series, we will see how grantee partner The Reset Foundation is using trauma informed interventions as an alternative to incarceration.


Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.