Grantee Spotlight: Fresh Lifelines for Youth
Moving from service to some to justice for all
We recently sat down with Tracy Genica, Director of Communications of Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), to learn more about the recent accomplishments and advocacy of FLY youth in the community. Sobrato Philanthropies is pleased to be able to support FLY’s mission of partnering with youth to unlock their potential, disrupt the pipeline to prison, and advance justice in California and beyond.
“We are thrilled to share some recent accomplishments of our youth advocates,” Tracy said. “Over the past few months, our youth have been advocating for changes to the justice system in their communities, and their efforts have yielded some amazing results.”
Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) is founded on the belief that young people can provide the best solutions to the challenges they face, based on their own lived experiences. By partnering with local youth to inform program development and advocacy efforts, FLY hopes to make positive and lasting changes in the youth justice system that focus on rehabilitation, not punishment.
Starting in 2020, FLY’s Youth Advisory Council began meeting with the Santa Clara County Juvenile Court Aligned Action Network, a group of community leaders who work together to improve outcomes for young people.. FLY youth Aydeth and Estefani sat as youth co-chairs of this committee, serving as Youth Justice Consultants, and after over a year of advocacy, they were able to negotiate with the County Counsel and gain the support of County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg to declare January as “Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline Month.”
This initiative will illuminate the barriers faced by FLY youth and promote a smooth re-entry process for young people beginning school after incarceration. In 2022, Estefani spoke in favor of passing the proclamation and the importance of creating pathways to success for young people.
“Estefani emphasized that ‘our education systems need to be more loving.’ We couldn’t agree more,” Tracy said. “This accomplishment has the potential to disrupt the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline and make a real difference in the lives of our young people.”
The FLY Youth Leadership Council, a cohort of Oakland youth ages 14-21, has additionally been championing to make a difference in the lives of young people by mobilizing a community coalition to create a new community resource hub in Oakland for youth transitioning from the foster care system, incarceration, or homelessness.
After strategizing and collaborating with educators and community organizations, FLY youth helped secure a former Oakland Unified School District headquarters, two buildings totalling 96,900 square feet, as the site for the forthcoming community resource hub.
“Led largely by young people who have needed services like those the hub will provide, this coalition is advocating for housing support for young people who need it,” Tracy said. “The coalition's efforts have the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of young people who are struggling with transitions and finding stability.”
Projected to be built in the next five years, the Community Resource Hub will include space for career and technical education programs, a student-run cafe, mental health and academic support services, and short-term housing for youth ages 16-24 who are housing insecure or coming out of foster care or juvenile detention. The hub will also include administrative offices for the school district’s Oakland Adult and Career Education department and its Young Adult Program, which serves adults aged 18-22 with disabilities.
Tracy says that over the past few years, FLY has realized the need to evolve from service to some to justice for all. This approach has resulted in the expansion of in-person programs and serving more youth ages 18-25. At 18, the law considers a person an adult and they typically get dropped from important transitional resources, but research shows that a young person’s brain is still developing well into their 20s.
“18 to 25 is a population that we're serving more and more,” Tracy said. “It's transition age youth. A lot of times at 18-years-old, youth age out of a lot of needed resources for young people within the system, and so we find that those young folks also can use the support that FLY provides.”
By 2030, in accordance with FLY’s new strategic plan, Tracy says that FLY hopes to support the disruption of the pipeline to prison for 30,000 youth, expand in-person services to at least five counties in the Bay Area, and continue to fiercely advocate at the state and local level for stronger, safer, and more vibrant communities for all.
“It’s definitely been a change, going from doing things a certain way for a long time to this large and fairly quick expansion, and delving into the realm of advocacy,” Tracy said. “We’re learning, but we’re growing, adapting, and folks are really responsive. They see our young people, they hear their voices, and they want to be a part of the change.”
Recently, Tracy traveled to Sacramento to witness a group of youth advocates speak to the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) in favor of improving conditions in locked facilities for incarcerated youth. Joined by many youth impacted by the justice system from organizations all over California, FLY youth advocates provided thoughtful recommendations to the BSCC, including the banning of chemical weapons, further accessibility of educational and vocational services, and improving the quality and cleanliness of clothing and bedding.
“All of these young people came together to advocate, to try and raise the standards, to try to make a positive impact,” Tracy said. “They mobilized in a really powerful way. They knew their stuff, they shared their own stories, and they advocated to create change not for themselves, but for the next generation. The energy of the room… Everyone was so supportive of one another. We're just all there collectively trying to make things better for our young people.”
Tracy says that doing this important work takes a community—one that largely includes the support and backing of dedicated funders like Sobrato Philanthropies. As FLY grows and expands, funding helps enable the organization to run its programs, maintain office buildings, pay youth and staff for their services, and so much more. Tracy says that many former FLY youth come back to work and volunteer at FLY, giving back to the community and furthering their career goals.
“We want our staff and youth to know that we're valuing their contributions to our work,” Tracy said. “FLY is founded on youth voice, by asking young people in locked facilities, ‘What do you suggest? What could have changed this path for you?’ We know that our young people have the solutions that we're looking for, so I think that organizations like Sobrato Philanthropies have helped us to continue that work, and then to grow and expand on the work based on what our young people in our communities need.”