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Founders Story

Youth Action Partnership was founded in 1998 by Joseph Williams, who was looking for a way to engage local youth and focus on activities youth find interesting. 

In 1998, Joseph was working as a Clerk for the Job and Employment Services Department, where he pre-screened participants for employment, graded their assessments, and assisted with job searches.

Joseph’s mother had introduced him to the head of the department, Keith Lee, and asked Keith how to get her son a job.  Keith ended up hiring Joseph to work in the department and continued to support him for many years as a mentor.  Thus, Joseph learned one of the key tools of getting a job-connecting with people.

“Then Keith assigned me to the board of the Boy’s and Girl’s club,” Joseph said.  “I attended their meetings and it was a group of adults sitting around discussing what youth wanted.  There were no youth on the Board.  

“I said, ‘Why don’t we ask the youth?’ and I decided I would do just that.  They gave me a room with 10 computers and I started working directly with the youth, seeing what was interesting to them and what they wanted to do.

“We started kicking around names for our group, what to call ourselves.  We had Youth Vibe and Youth in Action, we finally came around to Youth Action Project,” Williams noted.

The name that stuck was “Youth Action Project” which shortens to YAP. 

“YAP, YAP, YAP!  It’s just sounds fun,” Joseph said.

“I was working with the kids and started asking them why they weren't participating in the youth programs.  The problem was the adults didn’t listen to the youth and the program created by the adults were not fun, interesting or relevant.  The youth did not have a voice,” Williams said.

“We started covering topics the youth suggested, such as how to get an apartment or buy a car,” he said.

He talked to the youth about access, connections and asset mapping.  They looked at cities located by the beach versus cities located in the Inland Empire, comparing the differences.  One day the youth decided they wanted to hold a scavenger hunt at the beach.

“We took these kids to the beach and they were exposed to an entirely different environment from where they grew up,” Joseph said.

YAP continued as an informal organization, holding garage sales and other local fundraisers to finance activities identified by the youth.  Joseph continued his work with the County of San Bernardino for 10 years, working different positions related to helping people find jobs.  At the Behavioral Health Department, he worked as an Employment Service Specialist coaching clients with physical and psychiatric disabilities on employment applications, resumes, and interview skills.

As an Employment Services Analyst he planned, developed and obtained Workforce Investment Act contract services, monitoring contracts and participating in strategic operational plan and staffing the Youth Council.   He went on to serve as an Employment Services Specialist, working one-on-one with participants to help them re-enter the workforce. 

In the evenings he continued his work with YAP and local youth, helping them navigate the often-confusing youth development system and gain access to services they needed.  In 2003, he decided to formalize his work with YAP and apply for a 501(c)3.

In 2005, while working as an INROADS Instructors for the Sheriff’s Department Inmate Services, Joseph became aware of an opportunity to provide more services to the youth of San Bernardino using an AmeriCorps grant.

AmeriCorps, often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps, was accepting funding applications for program dedicated to mobilizing individuals to help communities in need.  Joseph felt San Bernardino was a community in need.  His first thought was to approach the County-to see if they wanted to apply for a $50,000 AmeriCorps planning grant.  The grant, however, did not seem a fit for any of the county departments.  He decided to apply for the grant for YAP.

Meanwhile, Joseph's cousin, Tremaine Mitchell was also working for San Bernardino County as a Social Worker in the Public Health Department's pregnant and parenting teens program (PALS).  Tremaine served as a case manager for teen parents that desired to continue their education, find employment, and learn parenting skills.  After close to ten years with the County of San Bernardino, Tremaine decided that she wanted to help on a larger scale and provide services to more youth than she could individually work with on her case load.  Over lunch, in 2005, Tremaine shared her ideas for launching a youth development program with Joseph and the two decided to team up. 

The next year was spent in a whirlwind of meetings, connecting, and utilizing the networking skills Joseph had spent years cultivating.  Meetings were held with the city, the local school district, the state of California and Loma Linda University.  Joseph and Tremaine conducted focus groups, designed and administered individual surveys, and researched existing youth programs to find the service gaps in addressing what youth needed to be successful.  The goal of this community needs assessment phase was to identify a critical local need that could be served by AmeriCorps Members-youth dedicating a year of their lives to help their community.

“We determined that youth didn’t have the work experience needed to get jobs.  I wanted to give youth jobs in the nonprofit sector-providing youth work experience and building the capacity of the nonprofits at the same time,” Joseph remembered.

AmeriCorps felt a greater need was in the secondary idea Tremaine identified-tutoring youth who were failing to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).  “I tried to talk them into doing half and half, half nonprofits and half direct service tutoring, but they weren’t having it,” Joseph said.  So we began to seriously work with the school district to write an AmeriCorps program to use college students to tutor high school students struggling with the CAHSEE.  Tremaine and Joseph wrote the formal AmeriCorps application-over 100 pages of mind-boggling forms, structured narrative, and budgets. 

Federal grants are demanding, structured, and risky. One of the main risks is fiscal administration.  Small organizations must pay for all of their costs upfront, and then be reimbursed by invoicing for costs.  This meant cold hard cash was needed to support the first three months of operations.  This was a major obstacle to launching YAP to the next level-a formal organization with staff.

Joseph continued to network, meeting and building a relationship with Dr. Hart from Loma Linda University.  “Without their support, we never could have built the program.  The Loma Linda Institute for Community Partnership set us up with an advisory board and gave us technical assistance in running the program.  They acted as a fiscal agent, helping us set up fiscal and administrative policies and procedures.  The school district gave us access to their sites so we could tutor the students and we recruited college students to help the high school students,” Joseph said.

The 100+ application was written, sealed and delivered to the State of California-who administers the AmeriCorps grants from the federal government.  A few weeks later, they were notified YAP was awarded the grant.

At this point, Joseph and Tremaine faced a critical point in their personal careers.  Both had steady jobs working for the County of San Bernardino.  Starting a nonprofit is equivalent to starting your own business-the failure rate is high.  After 5 years, roughly 50% of small businesses fail according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  According to Forbes, over half of all nonprofits that are chartered are destined to fail or stall within a few years.

Joseph struggled with the possibility of running YAP while keeping his county job.

“You can’t do it,” his boss and mentor Keith Lee advised.  “You have to have faith in yourself and make the leap.  You need to quit your job at the county and run YAP.  That is the only way this will work.”

Joseph and Tremaine explored their souls and decided that the opportunity to improve outcomes for the youth of San Bernardino county was an exciting possibility.  Together, they built an advisory board that included Keith Lee and worked with Loma Linda and San Bernardino City Unified School District to help local students pass the CAHSEE.

YAP also provided paid hands-on work experience to under-employed college students pursuing careers in teaching or social services.  YAP built it’s first skills-based pathway, spending 10 years refining the training and administration needed to effectively mentor students and train Mentors.

The program grew, expanding from one high school to four in SBCUSD and also serving the neighboring Rialto Unified School District.  Students served grew from 60 to over 600 annually.  However, Joseph still felt the programming wasn’t meeting the needs of all youth.  Having a workforce background-he viewed the world in terms of meeting San Bernardino’s workforce needs. 

The question became how to serve youth that are unemployed and disconnected?  Tremaine and Joseph put their heads together and began applying for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds.  Their philosophy was YAP’s access to in-school youth provided the opportunity to connect with their out of school siblings. 

Much like Joseph’s mother asked Keith Lee “How does my son get a job?” Joseph theorized that parents of in-school youth would do the same for the out of school unemployed brothers or sisters.

YAP had evolved from the AmeriCorps funding, but the core values of hearing the youth voice and giving youth the opportunity to succeed in the 21st Century workforce began to impact how YAP leadership viewed their role in supporting the youth of San Bernardino.

“When I meet the youth that are out of school and unemployed, their first priorities are meeting their basic needs,” said Tremaine.  “Many of our participants have experienced homelessness, food insecurity, or lacked reliable transportation, to name just a few of the challenges.  Our programming is really workforce oriented.  Improving the high school academic outcomes better prepares students to access higher education and better jobs.  Connecting with out of school youth and building skills-based pathways for our out of schools youth enables them to be competitive in the workforce.” 

YAP’s ultimate goal is to build a comprehensive youth services system serving all youth through high school graduation, helping them transition to higher education and enter meaningful and gainful employment or entrepreneurial ventures by age 25.  Together, Tremaine and Joseph have built programming that includes a continuum of paid work experience pathways serving Opportunity Youth through under-employed college students seeking higher degrees. 

In 2019, Joseph removed himself from the daily YAP operations to serve as Chairman of the Board.  Tremaine is now the Executive Director and her long-term plan is to build out skills-based pathways leading to sustainable jobs for Inland Empire youth. 

Tremaine’s philosophy is the pathways need to lead to jobs defined as “well paying,” and include paid work experience and mentoring.  YAP has also founded Young Leaders Incorporated (YLinc), a social enterprise business that provides paid work experience in digital media and content development.  YAP is in the process of developing and refining this pathway.

YAP is participating in the California For All/Listos program that provides disaster preparedness to low income families.  Long-term, Tremaine believes this could be built out as an Emergency Medical Services skills pathway.

Green jobs are an exciting prospect, needed in California where the air and water quality need improving, and meet with YAP standards of well paying, career-oriented jobs.  Tremaine is working to partner with private enterprises to develop training programs in this arena.