Youth Advocate Programs, Major Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Provider, Gets $20 Million Investment from Ballmer Group

Youth Advocate Programs
Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) participants attend a Texas Rangers game. Photo courtesy of Youth Advocate Programs

Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), a community-based juvenile justice and child welfare organization with programs in nearly half of the United States, has received a major investment from Washington-based grant maker Ballmer Group to increase its staff and structural capacity.

YAP will receive $20 million over five years from Ballmer. The general support grant was quietly agreed to last year, after which YAP developed a plan for the funding.

“We were very surprised by the grant, which allows us to do things we can’t typically do with government funding,” said Shaena Fazal, national director of public policy for YAP.

“We wanted to be thoughtful about that process, and really spent time deciding what we could do to help our kids and families.

The core of the YAP model is the use of paid, professional mentors to work with youth who would otherwise be incarcerated, institutionalized or placed in residential care. On the juvenile justice side, it is one of only a handful of national providers that work exclusively as an alternative to incarceration.

“Youth Advocate Programs offers unconditional caring for kids with the most complex needs,” said Jeff Edmondson, managing director of Ballmer Group, in a statement announcing the grant. “We believe everyone deserves a shot at moving up, so we are proud to support an organization that embraces the belief that every single child is critically important to making this happen.”

Many of the mentors employed by YAP are part-time employees who are recruited from and trained in the same neighborhoods as the youth referred to YAP by juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Connie Ballmer, co-founder of Ballmer Group. Photo: Ballmer Group

The organization has grown to serve youth in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Its work was recently featured as part of a Vice documentary on the juvenile justice system in Lucas County, Ohio.

YAP, which is largely funded by contracts with government agencies, will use a small portion of the funds to boost its endowment fund and seed expansion into new states. But the bulk of the funds will go to two major initiatives.

One is capacity building, which begins with the recruitment of more frontline staff, as well as retention and training programs aimed at keeping them. An evaluation of YAP’s mentoring model published in 2017 found that the education of mentors, and the way in which they balance more serious engagement with play, are major predictors of success for teen clients.

Michael Karcher, one of the authors of the study, said a “YAP program with staff who know how to support mentoring matches is as good as it gets.”

YAP will also invest in upgraded technology to track outcome data for program evaluation. YAP will also invest in its marketing and development operations to reach more potential donors and investors.

The other initiative is the improvement and expansion of services that are currently only included at a small number of YAP sites. These include:

  • Intensive services for sexually exploited youths. YAP currently operates programs tailored to those youths in Las Vegas and Houston.
  • YAPWORX helps prepare youth for employment with job skills development and meetings with “opportunity advisors” from the workforce. YAP also offers supportive work programs at many sites, where employers are subsidized to hire and train YAP clients.
  • A program that supports reunifications from foster care by matching parents struggling with drug use with “recovery advocates” from their community.
  • Support services for teens who are preparing for adulthood.

“We are grateful to Ballmer Group for what for us is a game changer that affirms, supports and advances our mission,” said YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer. “The investment will help us realize our goal of helping more people access support in the community and changing systems’ reliance on institutional placement.”

The Bellevue, Washington-based The Ballmer Group is a limited liability corporation that was co-founded by philanthropist Connie Ballmer and her husband, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. It engages in national-scope projects such as the YAP investment, but concentrates in three regions of the country: Washington State, Los Angeles and the Detroit metro area, where Steve Ballmer grew up.

Ballmer Group has also been involved in two major funding collaborations in recent years. It pledged $60 million to StriveTogether, a national “cradle to career” initiative operating in 30 states and aimed at eliminating local disparities in families’ access to youth development pathways.

Ballmer Group is also one of several foundations backing the Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic venture that could invest up to $1 billion in “big bets” to expand the reach of a small group of youth-serving nonprofits.

“We like the notion of making big philanthropic investments in order to move our systems faster,” said Connie Ballmer, in a 2016 interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.

YAP was founded in 1975 by Tom Jeffers, a leading figure in the early movement against the use of large juvenile prisons. After working with legendary reformer Jerry Miller to empty out large facilities in Massachusetts and other states, Jeffers founded YAP in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Jeffers retired in 2003, and passed away in 2015. He was succeeded by current CEO Jeff Fleischer.

Note: This article was corrected on July 10 to reflect that Ballmer Group is an LLC and not a foundation.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel, Managing Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
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