On Wednesday May 18 almost 200 people gathered at Mutual of America on Park Avenue for Fedcap’s annual Spring Cocktail Party. This event celebrates the work of Wildcat, which has been driving innovation in services to the justice-involved for over 40 years.
The evening was notable for the passion and commitment of attendees for the cause of juvenile justice reform. The event focused on young people who enter the juvenile justice system and are at risk of being sent to prison, and the value of mentors in guiding them down a better path. Those in attendance included some of the nation’s leading juvenile justice advocates and reformers, and those who have been incarcerated and understand the life-changing guidance that mentors can provide.
Grant Collins, Fedcap’s Senior Vice President, Workforce Development, welcomed guests to the evening event and spoke about the impact of Wildcat on lives and communities, and how its work is informing a national conversation about the changing nature of services to those involved in the criminal justice system. He introduced Peter Samuels, Chair of the Wildcat Service Corporation Board and member of Fedcap’s Board of Directors.
Peter announced the recipient of the 2016 Amalia Betanzos Award – Shay Bilchik, Founder and Director of the Georgetown’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform – and spoke about the legacy of the late Ms. Betanzos, the first CEO of Wildcat and a legendary public servant to the people of New York City. Peter then introduced Marcel Hamer, a young man who is involved with the juvenile justice system, and is turning his life around.
“But for a diversion to Arches, a city program for court involved youth, and the passionate commitment of his mentors, Marcel Hamer might have been sent to prison, might have seen his dreams shattered by a single mistake,” Peter said.
Marcel, a 17- year-old high school junior, told the guests that a lack of confidence led him to follow the wrong crowd. He was arrested during a robbery and spent a night in a holding cell – the worst night of his life. With the support of his parents and his Arches mentors, Marcel has learned to make better choices – he feels good about himself, is getting good grades at school, and is choosing friends who are doing the right thing.
“I want to thank all of my mentors,” Marcel told a very inspired crowd. “I have a bright future now, and a chance to make my dreams come true.”
Fedcap Board Chair Mark O’Donoghue presented Fedcap’s Work Star Award to Eataly, the world’s largest Italian marketplace. The WorkStar award is given to businesses that hire people with barriers – to date Eataly has hired 31 Fedcap culinary students, who are employed in a variety of jobs. Cleo Clark, Executive Director of Human Resources, North America, accepted the award on behalf of Eataly and talked about the meaning and importance of the partnership with Fedcap.
In introducing Shay Bilchik, Judge Jeanette Ruiz, Administrative Judge of the NYC Family Court, spoke of her friend and colleague as an inspiring individual with the ability to envision a new future for young people involved in the juvenile justice system, and to turn that vision into action. She described a tireless champion of youth and their families who has created system change through an unwavering commitment, and an ability to draw people together.
“Shay’s lifetime of work makes a real, tangible difference every single day in the lives of young people and their families involved in the juvenile justice system.” Judge Ruiz said.
In graciously accepting the Amalia Betanzos award, Shay thanked Fedcap and its leadership, and his many friends and colleagues in the room. He talked of a career spent exploring the pathways that lead youth into delinquency, such as abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and mental health issues, and working to bringing stakeholders together – courts, child welfare, juvenile justice – to address these issues in a comprehensive manner, for better outcomes for youth and families.
“I am hopeful for the future,” Shay said. “We have the commitment from a broad spectrum of people who understand that we get to better outcomes by being smart in how we do this work.”
In an impassioned closing speech, Steve Hickman, who served 19 years in prison and is now a successful manager for Wildcat, told the rapt crowd about the pain and loss of being incarcerated for nearly 20 years. He said that if he had a mentor as a youth, his life would have turned out very differently. For many young people – like Marcel Hamer, who spoke earlier in the evening – all they need is a strong and trusted voice to guide them.
“As people, as a community and as a country, we have to break the cycle of young people who end up in prison,” Steve said. “If these youth had even one adult in their lives who could mentor and guide them, so many more would lead happy and productive lives.”
Steve thanked his mentors at Wildcat for believing in him and giving him a chance.