E.A.R.N. The Right: Empowering At-Risk Youth with Opportunity

Key Points

  • Oftentimes, youth who are involved in or at risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system are being impacted by other life challenges or disabilities.

  • Antonio Boyd sits with Joe Sicilio, Coach Joe and founder of EARN the Right, for a Q&A about the program.

E.A.R.N. the Right
image via earntheright.org

Oftentimes, youth who are involved in or at risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system are being impacted by other life challenges or disabilities. These situations may have greatly affected their emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral health. The juvenile justice system is based on the idea that children and teens are not inherently violent or mean. There is a strong belief that young people can and will live healthy, productive lives if given the chance to do so instead of being thought of as hopeless and kept away from their communities. 

A report by American Progress says, “Developing and implementing a clear education continuum for youth as they enter, stay in, and return home from a juvenile detention facility can make the difference between having access to opportunities and being forced to drop out of school.” One thing is evident when we think about the many problems with the criminal justice system today: too many young people do not get the help they need to do well. On any given day, close to 60,000 kids under 18 are in jail, and more than 500 are under the age of 12.

One program striving to change this risk factor for recidivism is E.A.R.N. the Right Inc. The goal of E.A.R.N. the Right, Inc., (ETR) is to empower at-risk youth and prepare them for opportunity, says Joe Sicilio, founder of ERT.

E.A.R.N. the Right, Inc. has done over 500 hours of community service by delivering the E.A.R.N. the Right workshop to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and school districts throughout the state. 

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Coach Joe and the EARN the Right team believe that “success is not an entitlement – one must EARN the Right to be successful.” EARN the Right teaches adolescents communication and social skills so that they may successfully advocate for themselves throughout their lives. ERT teaches youth how to climb above their current situations and achieve their professional, educational, and personal goals. Over the last decade, EARN the Right has worked with over 1,000 young people and those who serve them.

I sat with Joe Sicilio (Coach Joe) for a Q&A about the program:

What made you start EARN the Right?  

I really do not know how to answer this. The only thing I can say is that it was put on my heart to reach out to our youth providing them with skillsets that will allow them to self-advocate in educational, workplace and community settings.

What is your main goal for the students in the program?

One of the main goals is to have them understand they are worth it, and to instill self-confidence in them so they will want to move forward in a positive manner. 

What are some of the positive outcomes of the program?

We have discovered leaders who never knew they were leaders. We have had kids open up and talk through some of their circumstances. We have discovered career paths. We have even had students go on and get their High school diploma, and GED, and even go on to higher education.

Describe the impact of EARN the Right on a particular student.

In our program, there is a lot of role-play. As we started the program at Camp Aspen one of the young men was so nervous and shaking, he would not role-play. Come to find out he was the lowest-ranking person, the other guys did not want him to participate because they would have to if he did. As the classes continued and we were able to work independently he began to open. Role-playing became easier and he led his group in an activity and was the lead presenter. We found out he loved technology, so the role play was selling me a cell phone using the skill sets learned in EARN the Right. He was then when released and went on to Tech School in the upstate.

What is your vision for the next few years?

My vision is to grow the EARN the Right organization so we can reach more of our youth. Connect with the students as they move forward to provide mentoring. Our goal is to connect them with local businesses for employment opportunities. For those who excel in the program, we want to bring them back into the loop to help facilitate the EARN the Right program.   

Antonio Boyd Columnist

Antonio Boyd

Antonio B. Boyd, Ed.D. serves as President and CEO of the Think Tank Consulting Group, LLC. A national management, development, and public affairs company specializing in the education, non-profit, government and public health sectors.

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