YOUTH POWER nothing about us without us YP!

In December's eNews:
YP! Welcomes New Mentoring Coordinator
RAMP Year 4
More Changes to Graduation Options
LI Team Spreads Hope
Interview with Debra, Youth Peer Leader
From School to Prison
Opportunities and Resources

We hope all of our members and supporters are having a joyous holiday season.

YP! Welcomes New Mentoring Coordinator

YOUTH POWER! is proud to introduce Elijah Fagan-Solis. Elijah will be overseeing the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP). Elijah is based out of our headquarters in Albany.
Elijah with his youth group at Niagra Falls

 Elijah Fagan-Solis 

Mentoring Coordinator

(518) 432-0333 ext. 19


Elijah Fagan-Solis, a God-fearing Capital Region native, is a highly motivated, young professional with firsthand, lived experienced as a person with a disability. At age 14, Elijah was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Failure and labeled disabled. Despite the label placed on him, Elijah was determined not to let a disability control his life or future; through all the trials and tribulations he faced with his health, Elijah graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Hudson Valley Community College, and Magna Cum Laude from the Sage College of Albany. While at HVCC, Elijah was honored by the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York for winning the David A. Garfinkel Essay Competition, and had his essay published in Judicial Notice, as well as participated in a documentary about his involvement with the contest. Elijah has worked with the NYS Assembly, is a member of two national honor societies, and has received awards for involvement in his community, and for his belief in the ability of people to change, grow, and make a contribution to the world. Elijah participates in charity events and fundraisers such as the National Kidney Foundations Kidney Walk and the Children's Miracle Network Hospital's Walk in the Park. Elijah also volunteers his time to do community service and is highly active with his church where he serves as a Deacon, the administrative assistant, and heads the youth ministry among other responsibilities. 

RAMP Year 4: An Opportunity in Work Clothes


The Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Albany is preparing to kick off another year of career based group mentoring for youth with disabilities who are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system and intends to serve at least 30 young people. With Zach Garafalo accepting the Assistant Director position within YOUTH POWER!, the new Mentoring Coordinator, Elijah Fagan-Solis, is truly excited to lead RAMP into its fourth year and anticipates beginning weekly group meetings in mid-January.


Although RAMP has been re-funded for an additional two years by the United States Department of Justice, due to our financial situation, RAMP will be unable to provide stipends to mentors and guest speakers, as well as provide incentives for the mentees. Although this may seem to be a great challenge, Elijah is confident that it is "just another opportunity in work clothes."

The reason why Elijah sees the challenge of providing stipends and incentives, as RAMP has in the past, with no financial basis as an opportunity is because it is yet another reason to reach out and work with the community to get them involved with the program. In years prior, RAMP reached out to build community partnerships that provided mentors and guest speakers and opportunities for job shadowing among other things. Now there is an opportunity to reach out to even more business owners, proprietors and companies in the community, and work toward their involvement and investment in the youth RAMP serves by donating $5-10 gift cards to be used by mentees, food and snacks for weekly meetings, and tax deductible monetary donations.


RAMP believes in the power of rewarding direction, as it has proven successful, and hopes to continue doing so. Elijah is working hard to make this a reality. RAMP is optimistic that the Capital Region community will understand the importance of their involvement in the program and how the mentees depend on them, and will come together to not only support, but to be part of another successful year of RAMP. When asked about the future of RAMP, Zach Garafalo said "we are excited to have Elijah on board. He brings a fresh burst of energy and enthusiasm that will carry RAMP through the next few years."

If you are interested in being a community partner, or know a business that may be, please contact the mentoring coordinator by calling 518-432-0333 ext. 19 or at

More Changes to Graduation Options

In October the Board of Regents announced they "approved the emergency adoption" of new rules relating to the Safety Net for Students with Disabilities to Graduate with a Local High School Diploma.  Students will now have to get a least a 65% in Algebra and English. In the other required tests (Science, Global, US) the student must get a 45% on one. Previously the rules stated a 65% was necessary in any two tests and the others had to be 55%.                                        


The new amendment adds plenty of ways to disqualify. Ways to disqualify include: if a student fails the course that test is in, then the test is thrown out as well. Also if the student misses the class more than the allowed amount of times (this number is set by the district), their test does not count. Those who take the (Regional Competency Test) RCTs will for a local diploma will no longer able to use score compensating (70 and a 40 can't be a 65 and 45 on those test).       


The fact that the local diploma is only for disabled students is public knowledge.  Employers have the right to demand a copy of an applicant's high school diploma as proof of graduation, along with a transcript if deemed relevant.  Because of this, once an employer sees the words "Local Diploma" on the certificate, they will automatically know that the applicant has a disability.  The employer is not supposed to be able to discover this without the informed consent of the person seeking the job, and it can be used to discriminate against disabled persons who choose not to disclose.  Anything that forces the disclosure of someone's disability status violates the ADA, as well as constitutionally-protected liberty and property interests as per the 14th Amendment.                                                                                                                        

These changes come on the heels of the replacement of the IEP diploma with the  Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential. 


Currently, The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is seeking public comment on proposed regulations to establish a Regents Certificate of Work Readiness for students with disabilities (other than those eligible for the Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential). Comments must be recieved by February 11,  2013.  Please visit this link for more information NYSED


YP! remains concerned about the graduation options in New York State and has taken the position that the local diploma should be returned as an option for all students.   With changes to the GED (high school equivalency diploma) looming in the near future and poor graduation rates already existing in the state, we are questioning if these changes will be enough to ensure the success of New York State Students. We believe there must be meaningful graduation options for students regardless of disability status.  


In January 2013 YP! will be coordinating a statewide youth input session for special education.  Be on the look out for more information in the New Year.  We want to hear from you!

Long Island Team Spreads Hope

By Lucia Mallozzi

Lucia Mallozzi On Saturday December 1st, 2012, YOUTH POWER! Long Island Regional young leaders were welcomed into South Oaks Psychiatric Center with a vital message and the ambition to instill hope into the minds of the residents at South Oaks. In the experience, two presentations occurred, YOUTH POWER! and the Nassau County Family Support System of Care, both aim to grant voice youth in the Mental Health and other child serving system. Both YOUTH POWER! members and affiliates were given the opportunity to share their stories as an expression to aid in mending the residents who may not have had previous guidance. The young leaders all agreed to have felt rewarded and enlightened by the experience which was proven mutual when receiving positive feedback from multiple inpatient sources in the psychiatric center whether never having been admitted into a hospital or have not possessed the recollection of being in one. Going to South Oaks hospital to share our stories was mutually empowering! I have learned so much about myself in the eyes of the youth that attended and it was a very successful yet emotional day. What we're capable of is so surreal and with that STAND UP for what you believe in because who's going to know if you don't advocate and when you stand up for yourself? You are probably standing up for a thousand others who can't. I love YOUTH POWER! and I am so blessed to be a part of it! Overall, personally, witnessing the evolution of the residents over the presentations and to actually see hope reflected in their eyes was one of the most satisfying conclusions. 

 Interview with Debra, Youth Peer Leader

Desiree Moore, Long Island Regional Youth Partner

Deb What would you share with a young person who is currently going through experiences you have overcome and has lost hope?

Debra: Look forward to tomorrow; a lot of people of going to try to bring you down don't feed into the negativity.


What impact do you want to make in the mental health peer movement?

Debra: I want to change people's perception on mental health.


What are some struggles youth in residential facilities face?

Debra:  They face peer pressure, family issues, drama amongst the other residents, lost of hope, medication, and weight gain.


What advice do you give them?

Debra: Utilize the staff and the recreational activities. 2. Things happen in your life because of the thoughts you project. To change what happens to you, you must change your thoughts. So make a commitment to yourself and begin to be positive!


What was one of your biggest struggles and how did you conquer it?

Debra: One of my biggest struggles was being forgotten and not being accepted also not wanting to disappoint anyone. I conquer these issues by addressing them. I'm still working on being accepted


From facilitating a peer support group, why is peer support so important in a young person life? 

Debra:  Believing there's more to life, speak more about their issues, a place to vent, a community to process, peers have been there already


What skills do you feel you need in order to facilitate a group?

Debra: Open communication, Creating boundaries, Honesty, in a place of hope yourself


What inspired you to get involved in the YP! movement? Why do you care to be a member of YP?

Debra: I love helping others and there are things that need to be changed in the system and I have the power the power to do it speaking out for the kids that can't is what I'm good at 


What do you gain personally from doing this type of work?  

Debra: Knowing I'm  apart of changing someone's life, I get to see the bigger picture its more than just four walls and a big building

What are some issues you feel youth are facing that are going unaddressed?
Debra: What I would like change in the world today outside of OMH; I feel like people are so easy to jump on board  children and families going hungry in third world countries, or the shooting in CT for example its during those times that people turn their head allows it to happen more often. If people focused more on those things maybe we as a country could help stop the next tragedy from happening.With all the little things like the latest styles, music, or technology advancements but when it comes to the things that matter; the important things li use its too hard for them to see the bad in life. But that's what we need to focus on, when everyone turns their heads to tragedy nothing changes and it  Here is what others wanted to say about Debra:  


Debra from the start of her teenager years she's always had a lot of struggles to overcome. Along with the ordinary peer pressure all teens feel she faced the struggle of being in Madonna Heights..[Residential Treatment Facility] and having to find her place in life. There were times she wanted to give up and I'm so incredibly proud of her that she never gave into those feelings. I couldn't be more proud to say Debra is not only my big sister; but she's my best friend, my role model and my inspiration.

- Ashely Parsido


Debra Paradiso is a true example of determination, strength  and resiliency.  She is fully committed in helping others through her own example, and can always be counted on to speak the truth.  Debra has made it a point to remain connected to our Team, and currently facilitates a weekly Peer Mentoring Group with the residents here at Madonna Heights.  Several of these residents look forward to meeting with Debra, and connecting with her regarding personal advice, future goals and as an additional support to rely on.  Through her own trials and tribulations, Debra often reflects on the steps she took to find balance in her life, and is quick to point out healthy and constructive outlets that teenagers in residential care turn to as a means of coping with the stress or pressures they may be experiencing.  I can very well see Debra working with youth in this capacity as she draws closer to her professional goals.  She is a helper by nature.  Debra both amazes and inspires me, and I find myself drawing on her strength when faced with doubt or need for direction.  It is examples like this, when we as mental health providers learn just as much from our clients as they do from us. 

- SCO Family of Services   Program Director  Amir Asad Mir, MSW


 She is helpful to her peers and anyone she encounters whether they are a friend or a stranger.  Her huge heart and ability to make positive decisions will help her to go much further in her life.

- Lisa M. Ribaudo, LMSW | Social Worker


Being able to watch Debra grow and mature makes this kind of work meaningful.  It has been a both a pleasure and a privilege working with her.  Debra's story and influence inspires us and teaches us to never give up.  Debra is a shining example to other young adults, and proof that commitment and hard work truly pays off.   

-Mary Bellia, LMSW ,Transition Coordinator

From School to Prison

By Adam Fazzone

The amount for money sent to for-profit prison systems has risen very dramatically in the past decade. The amount of federal and state prisoners housed in private facilities has more than doubled since 2000. There has been a lot of controversy about whether or not private prisons are vital for a faltering economy, because some states that are not financially solvent are enticed by the revenue private prison system executives promise to provide. Is it worth it though?


An oversight in security related to private prison systems has caused problems before. For example, in 2010 three inmates escaped from MTC (Management and Training Corporation) who ran a prison in Utah. The prisoners were able to escape because of lack of security at the perimeter and a faulty perimeter alarm and search lights that were not functioning. This escape led to the murder of a couple in Arizona whose bodies were discovered burned and stashed in their trailer.


Recently in Pinal county Arizona (rapidly becoming known as penal county USA because a private prison company known as CCA has six facilities in that county alone, and sixty-six across the nation) there was a drug raid at Vista Grande High School where principal Tim Hamilton ordered a lock down of the entire school at 9:00 AM and made the students line up against the wall while they were searched by drug sniffing dogs. This has become common practice among high schools in recent years along with metal detectors and zero tolerance policies, but what made this particular drug raid unique was the fact that there were more guards from CCA than actual police officers, which is not supposed to happen because they have absolutely no legal authority, and their training is next to nothing.


"To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the 'schools-to-prison pipeline' I've ever seen," said Caroline Isaacs, program director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social justice organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.


The practice of imprisonment as a first instead of last resort has caused the US to have the highest adult and juvenile detention rates in the world, even higher than china whose population is four times greater than ours; I believe it is time for a paradigm shift in this country.


A lot of the youth who are incarcerated are non-violent and first time offenders, in fact recently it has been brought to light that privately owned prisons have been bribing judges to send first time offenders to their jails so they can collect tax payer money for no reason other than taking up space. Seventeen-year-old Hillary Transue did what lots of 17-year-olds do: Got into mischief.


Hillary's mischief was composing a MySpace page poking fun at the assistant principal of the high school she attended in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Hillary was an honor student who'd never had any trouble with the law before. And her MySpace page stated clearly that the page was a joke. But despite all that, Hilary found herself charged with harassment. She stood before a judge and heard him sentence her to three months in a juvenile detention facility.


Come to find out, the judge that had sentenced her had taken 2.6 million dollars in kickbacks from privately owned prisons to send first time non-violent offenders to their facilities, so they could collect the reward. He had sentenced nearly 5,000 juveniles most of whom were first time offenders to the same fate.


A large majority of youths who are sentenced to juvenile justice facilities are harmless drug offenders who often need help with addiction but are offered no such intervention other than a locked cell.


It seems that people of color are far more likely to be incarcerated in their lifetimes, in 2009 OCFS reported the number of admissions for state wide facilities, and the number of African-Americans and Latinos were significantly higher than whites. You could surmise that racism in our prison systems are still alive and well in modern society. In 2007, 96 percent of youth arrested in New York City were African-American and Latino.


I think we should have more early prevention programs such as the boys and girls club and other programs such as this in urban areas to give people of color a better chance to thrive in their community, so that they don't have to rely on underground markets such as drugs and weapons.


Picture taken from

Opportunities and Resources

FEMA Disaster Assistance

NEW YORK - State and federal disaster officials urge survivors of Hurricane Sandy to come forward and ask questions they may have about registering for disaster assistance. Accurate information is readily available and can help dispel misleading rumors.

Opportunity for Youth in Recovery to Influence Federal Outreach

The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at SAMHSA is looking for a group of 18- to 25-year-olds who are in long-term recovery from substance abuse. The group will convene in Washington, DC, in spring 2013 to collaborate on ideas for outreach campaigns. Participants' travel expenses will be paid. To apply: youth must send a one-page personal statement to They should include in the statement a paragraph about themselves and a paragraph about why they are interested in attending the meeting. Statements will be reviewed and participants will be selected by a team of SAMHSA staff.


Journal Seeks Manuscripts from Individuals with Psychiatric Histories 

The Journal of Progressive Human Services is preparing a special section about the experience of mental health consumers/survivors and the various issues faced by members of this population. Contributions from consumers, providers and allies on a range of issues relevant to this broad topic are encouraged. The deadline has been extended to January 1, 2013.


Check out this new publication, Things People Never Told Me. This compilation of suggestions about finances, health care, employment, and relationships from foster youth transitioning to adulthood is aimed at equipping other youth leaving foster care with the necessary tools to become independent and successful adults. 

YOUTH POWER! is the New York State network of young people who have been labeled and are seeking change.  Together, we have decided to speak up about our experiences because no one knows what it is like for us better than we do.  Through peer-to-peer mentoring, we empower young people to be active citizens who are aware of government operations, their rights and the ability to use their voices to influence policies, practices, regulations and laws.  We are young people helping other people, ensuring availability of self-help and peer support while changing systems so that young people get the support they need with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Nothing About Us Without Us!