The Queens District Attorney’s Office has a second chance program for first-time, non-violent criminal offenders, which offers those guilty of a misdemeanor the opportunity to go through a rehabilitation program as an alternative to jail. Now, another program has emerged to do the same for felons ages 14 to 19.
Terryl De Mendonca, the founder and executive director of the Misunderstood Youth Development Center, based in Kew Gardens, spoke about the group’s signature Fresh Start Program at the Community Board 12 meeting on June 20.
MYDC works in conjunction with the Queens DA’s office, which selects the participants. The Fresh Start Program lasts a minimum of 12 months and functions in three four-month phases. Most in the program have pleaded guilty to robbery or assault.
During the first phase, participants must wear a monitoring ankle bracelet. They receive antiviolence lessons and anger management classes and attend a substance abuse program, if needed.
In the second phase, they no longer have to wear the ankle bracelet and they are given vocational training and life skills. In the last phase, they complete their mandatory community service and start to look for internships and apply to colleges.
“Should they complete the program successfully, their records are expunged,” De Mendonca said. “So far, we have had two successful graduations, one in February and one in May. We have already expunged a total of 10 young men of their criminal records.”
Throughout the program, the youth are given curfews in graduated levels. They also get individual and group counseling, financial literacy classes, vocational training and GED help.
Participants are at the MYDC location for two to three hours a day, five days a week. On weekends they continue their classes at off-site locations. De Mendonca said that parental support is essential to helping participants successfully complete the program. So far, no one who has graduated has been rearrested, De Mendonca said.
“We make sure that by the time they leave the program that they are a lot more well-rounded, and we give them a lot of life skills,” De Mendonca said. “We work in conjunction with a lot of other organizations that are trying to do similar things in the community.”
De Mendonca founded MYDC in 2005 “to help understand, develop and stimulate the minds of our youth.” The Fresh Start component is still in the “incubation” stage. MYDC also offers a Empowering Youth Program, which aims to enrich the personal and social development of those ages 8 to 18 and serve as a deterrent to crime and incarceration. For more information, De Mendonca can be reached at (718) 286-6769 or (917) 251-2424.
“We are very proud of our work,” De Mendonca said. “We think that it is so important that the community is aware of what we are doing.”