April 28, 2022

Our Roots as One of the First ATI Programs for Youth and Young Adults

Robert Siegal (right), founder of AFJ, playing basketball with the first AFJ  participants in Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing all the important branches that make up Avenues for Justice’s tree—from our board to our volunteers, from our staff to our participants. Today, as we approach our May 21st Street Naming Celebration to rename the block by our Center at 100 Avenue B, Avenues for Justice Way, we want to go back to the roots of our foundation. Thanks to the wonderfully kept notes and records of the first members to serve on AFJ’s Board of Directors, the late David O. Smith, here’s how we became one of the first Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs for youth and young adults in the country: 

In 1974, an NYU student from Pennsylvania, Robert Siegal, and an NYPD Police Officer from Harlem, Andrew Glover, had similar visions: to provide the Lower East Side’s youth with a safe space where they could do their homework, get meals, and socialize in a safe, environment. A police officer from the 7th Precinct recalled how Officer Glover returned to the Lower East Side, “on his time off to play basketball with the kids in the neighborhood.”

Robert, working out of his small apartment near Tompkins Square Park, also organized basketball games, and provided local youth with meal tickets to get food at the NYU cafeteria. At a time when the Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) model was extremely new, Robert began working across the criminal justice system to build relationships with the local precinct officers and advocate for court-involved youth to be offered services in the courtroom. That's why our hashtag #ServicesNotCells is so important to us.

David Smith was working with the newly created New York Urban Coalition when Robert stopped by to ask if the Coalition would provide funds so he could hire an assistant to help him with his growing mission. The assistant he wanted to hire was Angel Rodriguez, who was working as a youth counselor at the local Boy’s Club.

Then in September 1975, one block from our Center at 100 Avenue B, Officer Glover was tragically killed in the line of duty. As Robert began to consider launching a non-profit organization, he asked Officer Glover's family for permission to name it The Andrew Glover Youth Program in honor of Officer Glover's legacy and the impact he had on neighborhood youth. Sadly, in 1978 Robert’s own life was also cut short due to illness at the age of 28.

NYPD Police Officer Andrew Glover was dedicated to diverting local youth in the Lower East Side from crime. AFJ was originally named in his honor.

It was left to Angel to continue the work that Robert and Officer Glover had started. In 1979, Angel incorporated the Andrew Glover Youth Program (renamed in 2016 as Avenues for Justice). A year later, he secured headquarters inside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse to rapidly respond to youth entering for court dates, advocating before the judges that they receive wholistic wraparound services. In 1982, the organization purchased an abandoned building at 100 Avenue B by Tompkins Square and turned it into our flagship Robert Siegal Center. 

AFJ's Lower East Side Community Center before and after being acquired by the organization.

In those early days, Angel was joined by neighbors Sandra Vega, Hector Rivera, Jose Monges, and a few years later by Nelson Valentine. Nelson continues working at AFJ as Senior Court Advocate to this day. During the 1980's, Angel also collaborated with (ret.) Honorable Judge Michael Corriero – who currently stars on the CBS court show, Hot Bench to launch the Youth Part model in Manhattan that prosecutes youth separately from adults and promotes ATI services. Today, this model is used nationwide.

AFJ's Executive Director, Angel Rodriguez in 1988. Photo courtesy of New York Magazine

Avenues for Justice’s work proved to be an enormous success. In the 1990's, we began measuring recidivism rates. Currently, only 5% of our Participants are reconvicted of a new crime within three years of enrolling in our program. In contrast, up to 75% of parolees return to crime three years post release.

What started with a few committed neighbors helping youth in the Lower East Side, has evolved to today where we help nearly 400 of New York City’s youth and young adults, ages 13 through 24. AFJ assists our Participants with their legal matters and provides services for job training, education and tutoring assistance, mental health wellness services, and much more. Our work today is possible thanks to our Co-founder, Robert Siegal, and NYPD Officer Andrew Glover, who planted the roots of our ATI model in the Lower East Side. 

We are grateful to Community Board 3 and New York City Council – along with District 2 Council Member, Carlina Rivera – for unanimously voting in December 2021 to honor our 40+ years of service by naming the block by our LES community center, Avenues for Justice Way.

We invite you to join our Street Naming Celebration when we unveil the new street sign at East Sixth and Avenue B on May 21st! 

Stop by and meet AFJ staff and board, participants and their families, community members and AFJ supporters between 12pm and 5pm. There will be plenty of food, refreshments, music and fun to be had by all! 

If you have any questions about the Street Naming Celebration or AFJ’s History, please contact Elizabeth Frederick at efrederick@avenuesforjustice.org

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