What is a hero? For some, the word conjures up images from childhood of comic book characters who sweep in and save the day. For organizations like Avenues for Justice (AFJ), we recognize that heroes come from our very own communities. They are everyday people who commit to giving back to ensure that their communities continue to thrive and flourish. On December 7th, AFJ joined two other New York City nonprofit organizations to celebrate our heroes at the Robin Hood Heroes Breakfast. This annual event, sponsored by one of AFJ’s anchor supporters, the Robin Hood Foundation, celebrates the countless New Yorkers who overcome enormous challenges to build better lives for themselves and their families.
This year, AFJ’s own hero Elsie Flores was among the three honorees. Elsie grew up in the Lower East Side with her mother who struggled with her mental health and addiction. By the age of 16, Elsie had been arrested multiple times and was facing one to three years for each arrest related to drug sales. Elsie was looking at a total of nine years of incarceration during a time when young people could be tried and sentenced as adults. On top of the possibility of state time, Elsie learned she was pregnant.
Thankfully, Elsie was referred to Avenues for Justice’s court advocacy program. “My Probation Officer John made a deal with [AFJ] that if I did their program for a year, I would earn Youthful Offender status, have my record sealed, and get five years of probation.”
While at AFJ, Elsie received legal support, supportive services, mentorship, and guidance. Through her own hard work and with the support of her Court Advocate, Nelson, Elsie was able to navigate the court system without having to serve time. Additionally, Elsie was able to successfully provide for her child, intern at AFJ after successfully graduating from the program and earn a Bachelor’s Degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in2020.
Today, Elsie has worked as a Court Advocate at AFJ for 12 years, providing guidance to young people seeking second chances. Elsie proudly says, “Today, I’m a court advocate for 50 kids ages 13-24, kids just like me. Kids who are motherless, fatherless, and financially burdened. Kids who have been abused. Kids who find security with gangs, and stability with the cash they can make on the street. They gotta learn that’s not the crowd for them. Sexual abuse, they gotta learn, it’s not their fault. At Avenues for Justice, we are going from negative to positive. That’s our mission, my mission.”
The need for our work is as important now as ever before. In fact, AFJ was recognized in1994 when our Co-founder and Executive Director, Angel Rodriguez, was named a Robin Hood Hero. Unfortunately, just like in 1994, the communities AFJ serves continue to deal with inadequate access to resources, excessive policing and disproportionately high arrest rates among African American and Hispanic youth. As AFJ continues to pursue our mission of #ServicesNotCells, we hope we can count on your support.
Your donations help us continue to provide services to young people across the city who, like Elsie, need a program to help them at this crucial juncture of their life.
We thank you for joining us in celebrating our very own hero, Elsie.