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One America - Teen Opportunity Program

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One America

Program: Teen Opportunity Program, New York, NY/West Milford, NJ
Contact(s): Michael H. Friedman, Executive Director: (212) 594-2656
Purpose: To empower at-risk youngsters and to teach them the skills they need to make positive life choices

Background Program Operations Outcomes


Vacamas Programs for Youth, a nonprofit organization founded in 1924 by a group of dedicated business people and educators committed to enabling children of low-income families to enjoy positive experiences, founded the Teen Opportunity Program (TOP) in 1985. Vacamas created TOP with funding from the New York City United Way and the New York City Board of Education in order to strengthen its already existing summer camp program. TOP was designed to effectively integrate an attendance improvement, drop-out prevention initiative in two inner-city schools with a weekend camp learning program that would encourage improved self-esteem, communication and listening skills. TOP was also designed to help youngsters from various racial and ethnic backgrounds see that they are more alike than different.

Program Operations

TOP is a year-round initiative providing drop-out prevention, multicultural education, self-esteem building, problem-solving and conflict resolution activities to over 1,000 at-risk inner city youngsters. The children in TOP are predominantly New York City elementary and middle school students who have been identified by the board of education as being at-risk of dropping out. TOP staff work with the students and their families in their schools five days each week, at camp on the weekends, during some school days and the summer. During the summer months, each child who participates in TOP attends Top of the Pines, a camp for at-risk children located in Harriman State Park in Upstate New York. TOP offers group and individual counseling, parental involvement, crisis intervention, tutoring and mentoring services. It also organizes after-school sports, homework clubs and trips to cultural and historical sites. Beginning in January 1998, TOP expanded to include 30 seventh and eighth graders in Newark, N.J., who spend three days a week at the TOP camp with their teachers. In 1997, 30 sixth through 12th graders at PS 128 in New York City also participated in the program. The expansion of this program, called Over the TOP, was made possible through a small grant from Chase Manhattan Bank.

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

Students who were considered at-risk of becoming drop-outs have gone on to law school, administrative positions and even to positions with the TOP staff working in the schools and as counselors. Since 1985, 2,000 students have gone through TOP, and over 50 schools have received help from the Teen Opportunity Program.

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