As Avenues for Justice (AFJ) continues to celebrate Women’s History Month, we would like to spotlight Court Advocate, Shantel Brooks. As one of our newest team members, Shantel has focused on creating an employment pipeline for AFJ Participants as part of her unique approach to access and opportunity. Since the beginning of this year, Shantel has developed a job-board, making direct hiring connections with six NYC businesses dedicated to providing justice-impacted young adults with fair employment opportunities. To date, ten AFJ Participants have been hired as a direct result of Shantel’s employment referrals.
AFJ’s primary focus as an alternative to incarceration (ATI) program is to resolve legal matters for youth and young adults by providing free court advocacy services. In order to lower recidivism and provide long-term viability for our Participants in their communities, we also have a holistic approach to addressing root issues in education, employment, and mental health. Our research, based on feedback from 2021 and 2022 client satisfaction surveys, shows that our Participants need assistance in terms of their ability to obtain long term employment and income equality. It is for this very reason that AFJ tailored this unique approach to job readiness, beyond the traditional resume and cover letter workshops, geared towards providing a path forward for our Participants.
Living in New York City, you are bound to come across someone who needs assistance. Whether it is something as simple as navigating which train to take to get uptown to Harlem, or something larger like finding affordable housing in a city where monthly rents are skyrocketing! But as a New Yorker, Shantel has always prided herself on being practical when it comes to looking for real-time solutions---especially when working with under resourced communities. After graduating from high school, Shantel majored in Human Services and interned at the Administration for Child Services (ACS) and Healthy Families New York.
Her first job in the criminal justice field was a part-time, overnight position at a nonprofit organization which provided supportive housing for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. After a couple of years, she accepted a position at a peer ATI organization as a Mental Health Intake Coordinator. Shantel recalls that it was at that pivotal role in her career that she “saw what the effect of being incarcerated for over 25 years can do to a person and what the trauma that spending even one night in Rikers can cause.” The work experience catapulted her into wanting to provide valuable assistance to people reentering their communities post release.
Working as an intake coordinator, Shantel witnessed the obstacles young people faced as they navigated complex and traumatic home environments. Shantel’s next job taught her about the impact family dynamics play in determining a young person’s growth. As a result, Shantel decided that she wanted to combine her professional experience, along with her desire to empower teens, and work in the juvenile justice reform space. Two years ago, she seized the opportunity to apply for a job as a Court Advocate at Avenues for Justice.
“There is no one who works for AFJ that is not an advocate for youth and for second chances. What motivates me as a Court Advocate is helping clients see that they have a lot of potential. What I hope for Participants is that they learn from their mistakes. I hope that they remain focused, see that they have so many opportunities to reinvent themselves and that AFJ is a unique organization that understands how hard and frustrating it can be to navigate challenges in life.”
In addition to Shantel’s employment placement initiative in 2023 and the eagerness of our Participants to join the workforce, we would not be able to place our Participants without the openness of our community business partners who have provided a viable pipeline to hiring.
If you or your company are interested in providing paid internships, part-time or full-time employment to qualified youth and young adults, please email Shantel at firstname.lastname@example.org.