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At‑risk students connect with CCWF mentors

CCWF Diversion Program mentors help youth

Ten at-risk students sat timidly in a row at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), speaking to trained mentors. In whispers, they described their troubled histories: victims of bullying and assault; domestic violence; sexual abuse; bad decision making; poor choice of friends; lack of self-confidence; or feeling stupid.

Their mentors, 23 incarcerated women, listened with empathy. They had been in their shoes. They also had a loud and clear response. Life tragedies, bad choices, and peer pressure are all sad, but “none of these things define you,” said mentor Perla Vazquez.  

The program trains female mentors to provide empathetic coaching by sharing real life experiences as a warning to make healthier life choices.

‘Each child leaves here knowing they are valued’

“The mission for the YDP is to reach at-risk students and deter them from heading down the wrong path. Hopefully by hearing the stories and experiences the YDP mentors share, they can relate, and not make the same mistakes,” said Anissa De La Cruz, Chief Deputy Warden. “The goal is that each child leaves here knowing they are valued and worthy and there are people that care.”

The Phoenix Secondary Academy in Fresno is a public alternative school that accommodates students who are considered at risk of failing academically. Students participate four times per school year in the CCWF program.

“Staff see changes in students about two weeks after their visit,” says Fernando Santoyo, Social Worker from Phoenix Secondary Academy. “We’ve seen students change their lives by stop using drugs, changing their behaviors, distancing themselves from certain groups, changing their attitudes, focusing more on classwork and some even making their way to community college.” 

Throughout the day-long program, the CCWF mentors provided group discussion, as well as one-on-one sessions. As the students progressed they interacted with more confidence and shared tears with the mentors.

The 10 students entered the institution cautiously that morning, and left with a glow of self-assurance and determination.

“The most powerful factor in the program is the (mentors’) stories become powerful and useful. The truth draws the kids in, the stories are profound,” said Capt. Katherine Segars. “Once the students start listening and believe the truth, they can believe in change.”

Story by Todd Javernick, CDCR Public Information Officer

Video by Dave Novick, TV Specialist

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