Summer 2019 Newsletter – AIM Program
Staff Spotlight on Steven Meyer, Program Director for AIM (Advocacy, Intervention, Mentoring)
Union Settlement: Tell us a little bit about the AIM program. What does it stand for and what does it entail?
Steven: AIM is an acronym that stands for Advocacy, Intervention and Mentoring. The Department of Probation (DOP) designed it, and Union Settlement has been the contracted organization for the borough of Manhattan for nearly a decade.
We work alongside the DOP helping young people negotiate the conditions of their probation, and to hopefully help them change the trajectory that has brought them into the criminal justice world.
AIM is about creating a mentoring relationship. It is based upon the idea that participants on probation may buy into programs like this if they are developing a rapport with somebody who has walked in their shoes and has moved beyond the problems that they had when they were younger. We sometimes refer to this type of mentor as a “credible messenger.”
US: How does AIM fall under the mission of Union Settlement? What is your role?
Steven: Well, Union Settlement is about working with impoverished communities, and communities that don’t have as many resources. We have long been defenders of social justice, and so I think Union Settlement recognizes the importance of providing support to these young people who are entangled in the criminal justice system.
My role is to strengthen our partnership with the Department of Probation and to provide counseling and crisis intervention for participants and families when that’s needed.
I will sit in on meetings that the participants will have with their probation officer, or at a school meeting. I may assist parents and help them find their voice to advocate for their child, or help the participants find their voice to be able to better advocate for themselves.
US: Who is served by the program?
Steven: We serve both high- and low-risk participants on probation between the ages of 13 to 18. They come to our AIM program because the judge says: “I will try to provide these kids with one more opportunity to negotiate what’s happening in their lives.” Most of these kids have two strikes against them. We can never lose sight of the reality that the problems they’re dealing with aren’t pretty.
The judge will consider a participant’s background, history, personal preferences, preferences that families might have, and more. It has to make sense that a mentorship-based program will suit a participant more so than, say, a job placement or mental health-based alternative program.
US: Where has the model succeeded in your time with the AIM program? What are you most proud of?
Steven: I’m most proud of the opportunities that mentors have had to truly be invited into the lives of our participants. As you can imagine, a lot of these participants have been struggling with problematic behavior for long periods of time. And that’s
created a lot of problems at home.
Parents and caretakers don’t know where to turn, and so a mentor can intervene and help a family feel supported. When those relationships between parents/caretakers and children are strengthened—that’s a big moment I’m proud of.
US: What upcoming initiatives are you excited about in the AIM program?
Steven: Our contract with the Department of Probation was recently extended, so we will continue to serve as Manhattan’s AIM provider for at least the next three years. The number of participants we can take on has also increased from 12 to 16.
I’m excited about collaborating with other Union Settlement youth programs to expand our offerings, especially in terms of a broader range of recreational activities.
And, on a broader level, I am excited to continue my commitment through this program to help figure out how to adequately address some of the real issues that these kids are dealing with. We owe it to them and their families to ensure they have the opportunity and the voice to make the right choices that may ultimately define their life.