Ambus Shephard has made mistakes.
In 2013, 19-year-old Shephard plead guilty to receiving a stolen vehicle, carrying a concealed gun and falsification, then failed to appear in court for sentencing. Standing on the 57th floor of Key Tower and looking out over the city of Cleveland, the 23-year-old reflected on the opportunity he has to turn things around.
“I have four boys and I want to see them make it,” Shephard says. “When they get older, I want them to say, ‘Daddy really made it.’ It took me a minute to get here, but I just want to make this change. I never thought I would be in this building. I’m going to do my part. I want to be in suits like that.”
Shephard is part of Pathway to Resilience, a groundbreaking job skills and training program targeting at-risk teens and young adults. He joined several other members of the program in August at Key Tower to speak with sponsors of the program from Resilience Capital Partners and Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
Pathway to Resilience launched in December as a three-year pilot program. Two select groups of 10 individuals were invited to take part in an intensive career readiness and mentoring program that combines job skills and literacy instruction with extracurricular activities such as athletics and music.
Upon completion of the program, participants will be eligible for employment with Cleveland-area employers that sponsor the initiative.
“It sounds like everyone at this table wants to change this narrative,” says Steve Rosen, co-CEO at Resilience Capital Partners, who attended the event. “As a group, you all have decided what you don’t want. We’re going to change this narrative together.
“This group is critically successful to the long-term success of this program. There are dozens of young men who can follow in your footsteps if this pilot works. You’ll be leaders and you’ll be remembered in this community everywhere.”
According to Cleveland’s Collaborative on Youth Violence Prevention, Cleveland was the second-poorest city in the U.S. in 2014 and had the third-lowest high school graduation rate among the 50 largest cities in the nation at 34 percent. From 2010 to 2014, Cleveland saw 4,794 arrests of people ages 15 to 25 for murder, robbery and felonious assault.
Andre Townsend is a director at Pathway to Resilience who has been working with at-risk youth for 15 years. He understands the challenges they face, having faced many of the same obstacles during his own childhood.
“I have a passion for helping young people because I know how hard it is in the streets,” Townsend says. “Many of my friends are dead or in prison, but mostly dead because of the streets. I see young people all the time doing things that I know they don’t really want to do. But they don’t have instruction to make a better way. So how are they going to know how to change?”
Pathway to Resilience is based on innovative research on gang intervention conducted by the late Irving Spergel and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. It showed that the most effective intervention strategies combine policing, mentoring and social services.
“I’ve been working in the field of corrections for 26 years,” says Sharyna Cloud, director of Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance. “I know there is a lot of untapped potential out there and I’ve always wanted to help these young people. I know the struggles they go through. This program gives young men an opportunity to be better men, better fathers and better voices in the community. We’re touching them, but they’re touching so many other lives.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland serves more than 8,600 youth annually at 15 locations in Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland and Garfield Heights. The clubs provide a safe place for children to learn and grow and develop ongoing relationships with caring adult professionals, says Ron Soeder, president and CEO of the nonprofit.
“Pathway to Resilience builds on our ongoing programs and will provide Cleveland youth with intensive job skills training that will offer them a pathway toward employment and away from gang activity,” Soeder says.
As Rosen listened to the stories from participants, he took particular interest in the story of one young man who grew up on Cleveland’s Kinsman Road.
“My grandfather was born and raised on Kinsman,” Rosen says. “His father moved to Kinsman with no education. He was a bricklayer. My grandfather received an eighth grade education and he grew up on Kinsman with seven siblings in one house.
“We’ve got something in common. He went on and he learned some trades and skills that enabled him to provide for his family and eventually provide for his siblings and do the things you guys all want to do. It started for me on Kinsman.”
Rosen added that finding success in life does not happen by accident.
“You have to surround yourself with folks who want you to be successful,” he says. “A lot of folks you come across unfortunately don’t define success the same way you do. You have to replace what’s comfortable and what you know with an unknown, and hopefully this program will do that. You’ll find amongst each other a friendship and become goal-oriented and define what you want to become.” ●