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Friends of Island Academy (FOIA) reaches out to youth prior to their release from Rikers Island. Our name reflects the Board of Education school located on Rikers- Island Academy, which is attended by many of the youth while incarcerated. Upon discharge, FOIA provides job training, counseling, education, mentoring, and youth leadership development. In return, participants are expected to stay out of trouble, take responsibility for themselves, and work to rebuild their lives. Founded in 1990, the inspiration for FOIA came from a small group of professionals with the Board of Education and Department of Correction staff who were alarmed by the more than 70% reincarceration rate for adolescents released from Rikers Island. FOIA evolved from their conviction that with intense support and access to opportunity, many young people could be saved from a life of recurrent criminal behavior. FOIA is built on the belief that young people need to be helped, guided, empowered and challenged. Through the support of staff, each FOIA member takes responsibility, first for themselves and later for their peers and community.
As a first step, FOIA convinces incarcerated youth that another way of life is possible. For too many young people drug dealers set the standard for achievement and success. Our recruiters and counselors have been there. They know from experience what new members are going through, and are in the best position to reach disaffected youth. When an adolescent is released from prison and becomes a member of FOIA, he or she takes part in a wide array of services. Education is offered through on-site GED classes. For members who have a GED, FOIA provides assistance, both preparatory and financial, to enter vocational school or college. Employment is encouraged through job training and placement. Counseling is given through individual sessions as well as group and family therapy. Mentoring is available. Members are matched in one-on-one relationships with an adult from the community. Case Management is offered to youth ages 10-17 providing intensive assessment, links to appropriate community agencies, and two year monitoring post-release. (Adolescent Link) Rather than seeing our formerly incarcerated youth as the problem, at FOIA they are viewed as the solution. Members travel to schools, group homes, and juvenile justice facilities to share their experiences on how and why to break the cycle of crime and violence. Members have established GIIFT Pack (Guys and Girls Insight on Imprisonment for Teens) reaching more than 3,000 youth in New York City each year.
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