CASES recently opened two Pathways to Education Achievement and Knowledge (PEAK) Centers in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the South Bronx. The Centers provide safe after-school service hubs for Family Court-involved young people age 17 and younger who are on probation.
For these youth, PEAK supports the successful completion of probation requirements by providing educational support, employment-readiness and career exploration, recreation, and artistic activities. The goal of PEAK is to facilitate successful transitions by addressing the underlying factors that lead to justice involvement, including through engagement in these activities and support for behavioral health conditions, family needs, and the obtaining of benefits. The program model is flexible and focused on the whole individual, prioritizing not only participant needs but interests, encompassing short- and long-term goals.
As CASES Director of Civic Engagement Rob DeLeon says, “PEAK does not target one to three needs and that is the cap, or treat participants like a captive audience who must take what CASES gives them. Instead, PEAK responds to what each participant wants to pursue, filling what may otherwise be idle time with engaging activities.”
According to Mr. DeLeon, PEAK’s unifying focus is community. He envisions the Centers as places where “young people have a connection to community instilled in them,” including a sense that “their communities are their own.” To support this goal, participants will engage in community benefit projects, a longtime staple of CASES’ youth programs. Through community benefit projects, participants collaborate with neighborhood stakeholders to develop initiatives that address community needs. With our implementation of PEAK, CASES strives to be a positive fixture of the Bedford-Stuyvesant and South Bronx communities. Further, PEAK seeks to foster a community among participants, young people with shared experiences of early involvement in the justice system. PEAK programming—which runs Monday to Friday from 3 PM to 8 PM—culminates in a shared meal among participants and staff.
PEAK builds on CASES’ long operation of Choices, an alternative-to-detention (ATD) program for youth age 12–15 who have become involved in Family Court in the Bronx and Manhattan. Choices typically lasts 2–4 months. For youth who complete their Choices ATD mandate but continue to be under probation supervision, PEAK provides an effective aftercare option with services lasting at least 16 weeks, allowing for a continuity of services and more extensive long-term planning.
Ana Dopazo, Director of Choices and PEAK, describes the latter as a response to a challenge facing judges and CASES staff alike—how best to provide for young people post-disposition in Family Court. “A lot of judges ask what to do after a case is closed,” Ms. Dopazo says. “For participants, PEAK Centers can provide a safe and supportive place to continue to build skills and address challenges while learning strategies to avoid further criminal involvement.”