BROOKLYN — When Margaret Willis heard about a new job-prep program launching in her neighborhood, she jumped at the chance to keep busy.
“I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t in school, I just wasn’t doing anything,” Willis, 24, said.
The Crown Heights resident enrolled in Justice Community Plus, an initiative aimed at providing educational and employment opportunities for teens and young adults.
Through weekly sessions, Willis said she was able to gain work experience as a stock employee at a local Dollar Tree and took the first steps toward pursuing her GED.
“It changed my whole mind frame,” she said, adding that she’ll be starting at the Dreams YouthBuild & Young Adult Training program this September.
Willis was one of 22 graduating participants in Justice Community Plus’s first class in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights this summer. The group completed the series at the end of June.
Under the direction of the Center for Court Innovation, the program is modeled after the Brownsville Justice Community initiative, which has served dozens of attendees ages 16 through 24 for the past three years.
Representatives refer or recruit teens and young adults ages 16 through 29 to the six-month sessions, which are also offered in collaboration with the New York City Department of Probation.
While not a requirement, individuals who have been involved in gang or gun violence or those who have been “touched by the judicial system in some way” are targeted for the program, according to Justice Community Plus coordinator Kayin Latson.
“We realized these neighborhoods for a long time have been underserved and underprivileged,” Latson said.
“You have young people that wake up feeling defeated at the start of their day. We work with them to sort out the challenges and empower them with the skill sets they need to really transition to adulthood and pursue employment.”
The group meets twice a week at the College of New Rochelle’s Bed-Stuy campus, reviewing time management skills, preparing through mock interviews, and perfecting elevator pitches for their next jobs.
Attendance at local community board and police precinct council meetings helps them gain familiarity with local resources, Latson said.
Leaders also meet with participants in case-management sessions and work to expand their knowledge regarding vocational opportunities.
“Some of them live in Brooklyn but have never been to the Barclays Center,” Latson said.
“Just showing them different career explorations and taking them to places they’d be interested in makes an impact.”
During the program, attendees receive a $1,500 stipend and are placed in internships in fields of their choice.
It’s not all work, though.
Past graduates have journeyed to Six Flags and taken day trips to play paintball and laser tag.
For Willis, the program provided a chance to avoid idle hours, she said.
“It gave me something to do and it keeps you off the streets,” she added. “It was a great help and even after graduating, it keeps me focused.”
A new batch of 20 participants started the central Brooklyn program in July.