Learning from FLY

Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) is a local nonprofit focused on breaking the cycle of juvenile incarceration and violence. According to their website, they have seen a 77% reduction in juvenile incarceration in Santa Clara County and 65% reduction in San Mateo. I had the opportunity to chat with FLY’s founder, Christa Gannon, about her experience working with incarcerated youth.

One of the first questions I had for Christa was how she got involved in this area of work. She shared with me that while she was working on her law degree, she had an opportunity to teach a class about laws and consequences of breaking them with youth in Chicago. She saw firsthand how understanding the law better helped the youth make better decisions. Teaching youth about the law remains a core program of FLY to this day. 

Working with youth in relation to incarceration poses an interesting challenge. Christa shared with me about that youth who have been incarcerated and whose sentences extend into adulthood reenter society with a lack of adult skills. This makes them at risk of reoffending and sending them back into the system as adults. FLY works to intervene and train youth to better prepare them for life outside the system through programs that focus on leadership, mentorship, and volunteering. Many of the youth enter the program not interested in participating. However, seeing that FLY truly cares about them begins to change their perspective. Also, Christa said that through volunteering the youth begin to change their own views of themselves, seeing themselves as individuals with the capacity to give back to their communities.

Looking from the outside, FLY’s program appears to work really well because of the community they’ve managed to build through in-person relationships. I asked Christa if she saw any opportunity for digital tools to also help foster such community growth. She mentioned that they recently started exploring using social platforms, such as Instagram, to encourage out-of-session connection and updates. However, she said they’ve been having trouble getting continuous engagement and they’re in the process of figuring out how to integrate the platforms better. Both of us agreed that digital tools could not replace in-person relationships, but that there was an opportunity to supplement relationships when people are not physically in the same location.

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