January 12, 2023

Meet One of AFJ’s At-Risk Participants: Sanaya

Sanaya is notified that AFJ will be supplying her textbooks for her first semester of college during the 2022 SYEP Andy Awards.

Photo by Andrew Tivon

Founded over 40 years ago by our long-standing Executive Director, Angel Rodriguez and the late Robert Siegal, Avenues for Justice (AFJ)has saved thousands of youth from incarceration by providing court advocacy and wraparound services. Our two Co-Founders kept their doors open for any young person in the community who needed homework assistance, a safe space or a hot meal, regardless of whether or not they had a court case. Fast forward to today, where in addition to providing services to nearly 300 court-involved Participants, AFJ also serves over 60 young people annually who are at risk of interaction with law enforcement or involvement with the criminal justice system.

This week, we want to highlight a Participant in this category: Sanaya!

Sanaya was referred to Avenues for Justice in 2021, when she was 17 years old, through a peer organization that had been working with her brother. AFJ Court Advocate, Tiffany, worked with Sanaya to create an individualized action plan to help her with vocational training and college enrollment. At first, Sanaya was nervous about signing up for AFJ’s HIRE UP workshops for training, education, and mental health wellness. This all changed when Tiffany recommended Sanaya for AFJ’s unique Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) where we created a six-week media training with city-subsidized salaries for the enrollees.

Last summer, Sanaya received 150 hours of training in podcasting under the supervision of AFJ Intern Carter and Court Advocate Nora. She learned the basic mechanics of using podcast equipment, creating and editing a podcast, time management and team building skills. In addition to learning podcasting skills, the program helped Sanaya save money for her first semester of college. Sanaya credits SYEP for helping her grow as a person, building job skills and providing her with an alternative to the streets during the summer. 

Sanaya (right) interviews a subject for the podcast internship final project in Times Square.

Sanaya grew up with her mother, father and older brother in Harlem. After bouncing between boroughs for several years, she found herself in Yonkers. While her brother had little interest in college, she always felt that she would end up on the college path. But due to negative influences, she was on a trajectory to being arrested by the time she was 18 as some of her peers already had a few run-ins with law enforcement. 

Even though she was falling behind in school, her village support system consisting of her parents, guidance counselor, and eventually AFJ, encouraged her daily to finish high school and go on to college. After many college applications and a few college campus tours, Sanaya was accepted at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She passed all of her classes during her first semester, while juggling a hostess job at a local restaurant and a second part-time on-campus job. Even though she is 600 miles from home, AFJ keeps in touch with Sanaya. Over the last few weeks, Sanaya has been working with her Court Advocate, Tiffany, to secure a paid internship for this summer. 

Sanaya with two of her podcasting interns C & G. 

Photo by Andrew Tivon

As Sanaya notes, one thing that really stands out about AFJ’s staff is that they are always looking out for you.

“It’s not the type of program where you go through and it’s over then you’re done. It’s the type of program where you’re in it for life. The people at AFJ will help you with what you need, when you need it.”

When asked about what her future holds, Sanaya is excited about graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree, getting a car and landing a full time job. We are incredibly proud of Sanaya and everything that she has achieved thus far.

If you or your company are interested in offering Sanaya a paid internship this summer, please contact Gamal Willis at gwillis@avenuesforjustice.org.

Sanaya(right) with several other first year students at Guildford College.

Photo by Guilford College

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