The EARS Organization
Effective Alternative in Reconciliation Services (EARS) is a Bronx-based organization that has been providing essential violence prevention and intervention services to young people, their families, and staff in NYC schools and community based organizations for 27 years. We use a strength-based, youth development approach, with teen trainers developing and leading workshops for their peers. We provide opportunities for upward mobility within the organization. Young people have been on our staff and board since 1989. “Graduates” of our programs are leaders on college campuses and on the staff of a number of prestigious youth and community organizations in New York City.
Our mission is to empower young people with the skills to become self-sufficient and responsible young adults, preparing them to meet the challenges of adolescence and urban life in a safe, supportive setting.
We carry out this mission each year by training young people to provide peer-to-peer workshops and program services to over 3,500 people in schools, community organizations and foster care facilities.
The problems faced by young people, particularly youth of color in inner cities, are immense.
Annually, in our city, over 800 young people are turning 21, loosing their foster homes and foster care benefits. By the Administration for Children’s Service’s own estimate, 70.4% of these young adults are released with “no resources” and are ill-equipped to locate any. Hundreds of 21 year olds are scrambling to find a place to live so they don’t end up on the streets or in a shelter, to find a job, even though many have limited skills, and enough money to eat and survive. They need our assistance – now – and the adolescents coming along behind them need our training and services, now.
Dating violence and domestic violence are also big issues for NYC adolescents. This violence among intimates has the highest occurrence among females ages 16 to 24 who are African American and Latina. A national study of teens revealed that 1 in 5 reported having been victims of dating violence. Statistics for this age group vary because they are new to dating and do not know what appropriate or inappropriate dating behavior is. Many of their friends are also experiencing dating violence, so it is not seen as a “problem”.
The City Council’s report “Oversight: Identifying and Engaging Disconnected Youth” contains some pretty chilling statistics about young people of color living in economically devastated neighborhoods in New York City. First of all, there are over 170,000 of them – that’s a lot of disconnected, disenfranchised, disgusted, distraught, and simply “dissed” young people. Largely through no fault of their own, these teens find themselves on the door step of adulthood with, literally, nothing. And no one seems to care. More importantly, no one seems to know that this is happening in the backstreets, the alleys, the projects, the tenements where many families are barely living, without heat, hot water, adequate food.
Bronx teens experience many of these “risk factors” every day. Since we can not immediately change the impact of racism and poverty, we are empowering these young people with the skills and support system of peers to start creating change in their own lives, and then in their schools and ultimately their communities. With these supports, many of the youth we train will not become statistics of violence, but successful young adults.
To begin to address the needs of these teens, EARS provides a blend of conflict resolution skills training with a youth development philosophy, to equip participants with the skills they will need to be self-sufficient. Our youth-led programs enable teens from many different backgrounds, cultures and experiences to work together on the issue of violence reduction.
The Expected Impact
EARS, the Bronx’s premier youth development organization, train a new cadre of youth trainers annually. They will reach 100s of Bronx teens with skills to empower them as the age out of foster care, or deal with an abusive intimate partner, or try to get a job or go back to school so they can get a job.
Our core of 35 young people will have part time “jobs” providing workshops to 350 of their peers and earning a stipend for their work. They will continue to learn new life skills, including effective communication, negotiation, defusing anger and explore values regarding relationships, violence, teen culture and related topics at weekly meetings.
Recognizing the challenges that young people face in making the transition into adulthood, EARS has worked to provide a venue and a structure for youth to become socialized into adult roles, to “rehearse” in a safe environment the roles they will perform in the near future, as members of the workforce, as citizens, as advocates, change agents, spouses and parents. We work with them to develop skills around taking responsibility, asking questions, challenging assumptions, exploring issues from a variety of perspectives, communicating and managing conflict.
Ask any parent or experienced youth worker about the enormous power of peer pressure. They will attest to the fact that it is a force to be reckoned with. At EARS, we work to harness the power of peer pressure and use it as a resource to create social change. Young people are each other’s best teachers. We invest in them and develop their skills as trainers and create communities of youth learners.
Even more importantly, youth in EARS programs learn about trust, respect, and healthy relationships. Teens are exposed to healthy, pro-social relationships with peer and adult staff. Teen trainers are trusted to do their work off-site responsibly. All participants are shown respect and are expected to show respect to others. Teens have a space to practice their new skills and peer support to use these skills in their everyday lives.
At EARS, we strive to have our teen trainers and young adult staff members reach their younger peers before they become further “at-risk” or “statistics”. By example, older teens and young adults help guide, support and lead the way to finishing high school, attending college and seeking a career rather than a dead-end job. Your support can help more Bronx young people experience these things in life.