Each succeeding year, FOIA continued to grow and expand. FOIA
met all of its initial service goals with one exception -- transitional
Some of the services/projects presented below were part of the founders’
long-term goals, some were the result of fortuitous circumstances.
1. GIFFT Pack
An outgrowth of the initial and ongoing group sessions and conceived
by the youth themselves is GIIFT Pack (Guys & Girls Insight on Imprisonment
Island Academy was the first Alternative High School within a correctional facility to offer credit bearing high school subjects.
The School offered high school subjects for those who planned to return to their home high schools, a GED prep program and vocational subjects. There was a tailoring class, a print shop, computer operating and programming classes, and computer repair classes offered.
There were specialty classes for Special Education students and for non-English speaking students.
The Department of Correction was cooperative in the setting up of this groundbreaking program that was then followed by other schools for other populations. The result was an Education Program that we were all proud of.
Friends of Island Academy followed to provide the youth with a way of capitalizing on the progress they made while at Island Academy and of continuing contact with Exit Counseling staff.
The original goal was to provide the young men with transitional housing to provide an alternative to returning to environments, which were not supportive of the changes they were trying to make in their lives. . . .
For me, it was a great challenge and a wonderful experience. The progress we were able to make was a tribute to the professional, hardworking staff that assisted me in this venture.
I now live in Florida where I am working to open a home for displaced and homeless teenagers.
There is no end to the work needed to help young people through the difficult growing-up years.
The GIIFT Pack was developed in 1993 as a means of youth members sharing
their experiences and insight on removing themselves from a cycle of negative
behavior, crime and violence. Members of the GIIFT Pack travel in
groups of two to six to public schools, group homes, juvenile justice facilities,
community centers and so on, sharing experiences and delivering their very
The GIIFT Pack presentations are targeted at the very communities in
which the majority of FOIA youth reside. The central premise is that
FOIA youth are in the best position to reach others at risk by providing
leadership in the communities in which they themselves once posed danger.
In 2000, the GIIFT Pack reached over 2,000 youth.
2. On-Site Schools
Education is one of the major components needed to enable these youth
to achieve their goals and remain crime free. Accordingly, FOIA applied
to the Board of Education (BOE) requesting the establishment of an on-site
FOIA classroom to work exclusively with ex-offender youth to help them
achieve the General Education Development (GED).
The BOE responded to our request by providing an on-site full time teacher
and assistant to help these youngsters achieve the GED. Sixty percent
of the youth pass their GED within the year. FOIA then requested
the BOE to supply an additional teacher to work with the 30% of ex-offender
youth who read below the fifth grade level. Again, BOE responded
by providing a part time pre-GED literacy teacher. A generous grant
from The Robin Hood Foundation enabled FOIA to augment the part time literacy
component of the school program into a more comprehensive program that
includes mathematics and social skills.
In addition, due to the generosity of the Consortium of Workers Education,
“Union,” which provided computers and an excellent teacher four days a
week, FOIA also offers computer classes on all levels.
3. School-Based Peer Counseling
FOIA’s goal with this initiative established at a Bronx public school
was to develop a model that would demonstrate that the power of youth guiding
youth can prevent this City’s highest risk students, many of whom have
already been in trouble with the law, some of whom have been incarcerated,
from escalating their behavior into both minor and major criminal offenses.
The success of the work in this school can be attributed to an environment
that is non-intimidating, supportive and that these youngsters are learning
amongst their peers.
Participating schools recognize that interventions that address the
problems of this group of youths must be tailored to the particular target
group, be culturally relevant, and that the deliverers of service are aware
of the effects on young people’s lives that have been marginalized by complex
social circumstances. The schools are aware of the therapeutic role
of pro-social peers. When these peers are ex-offenders, the effect
FOIA demonstrates with this initiative an 80% increase in timeliness
and a 70% increase in attendance for those youth who participated in FOIA’s
Additionally, both students and teachers in-depth evaluation of FOIA’s
program was extraordinary, crediting the FOIA intervention with significantly
reducing the level of violence and thus creating a more favorable learning
4. Juvenile Linkage (LINK)
This FOIA service is a unique, and to some degree, independent program
funded for the past three years by the New York City Department of Mental
Health and supervised by FOIA management. The program’s initial mission
was to provide referrals, linkage and case management for youngsters 12
to 15 years old who have been detained at Spofford Juvenile Detention Center
and related facilities. In 2000, the focus partially shifted to providing
services to selected groups of the detained 16 to 18 year old Rikers Island
population. Some staff continue to work with the 12 to 15 year olds
in the juvenile justice system. This work now centers around the
concept of alternatives to detention.
5. Services to Female Offender Youth
FOIA’s goal was always to provide equal services to young women offenders;
however, it was not until 1999 that FOIA was convinced that it had the
resources, expertise, staff and room to meet the special needs of this
population. It was imperative that FOIA be able to structure programs
in a very specific way within the context of these women’s lives.
FOIA has been able to integrate young women into existing program components
such as the on-site schools. However, given the complexity of their
situation, FOIA has introduced a strong mental health component in order
to insure that each young woman would receives individual, intense counseling,