"I went through what they went through and I became someone different" - a former Corpsmember helps young offenders get back on their feet
Submitted by Hannah Traverse on Wed, 12/12/2012 - 14:08
Andrew McKee, formerly a Corpsmember with Phipps CDC/NYC Justice Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his commitment to service and self-improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Andrew and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.
Giving back to the community is very important to Andrew McKee. He is especially dedicated to helping youth with criminal backgrounds make positive changes in their lives. Andrew has firsthand experience with just how challenging life can be for a young man with a record.
Andrew was convicted of a felony and served time at Riker’s Island; New York City’s main jail complex. When he was released from jail on probation, Andrew worried that the stigma of a conviction would keep him from finding gainful employment. He was still in his early 20s and had his whole life ahead of him, but his self-esteem was damaged by the thought that his employability might always be in question. Things turned around for Andrew when his probation officer referred him to NYC Justice Corps – a job corps that helps youth previously involved in the justice system build important life skills and gain work experience through addressing community needs.
Andrew served in the Corps for six months, from January 2010 – June 2010. Looking back on the experience he says what stands out in his memory was his participation in renovating the basement of Labor Bathgate Daycare Center in the Bronx. With decaying, water-stained walls and broken ceiling tiles, the basement was unsafe for the children. Andrew and his fellow crewmembers completed all the necessary repairs and beautified the basement with paint and child-appropriate decorations.
“It was satisfying to just interact with my fellow cohort members and actually gain some work experience. I’d had jobs before, but nothing like that. Just the whole experience of working together with my peers and doing something positive - that stands out to me,” said Andrew. “Every chance I get or when I go past there I like to check up on the work I did. It’s been almost three years and I still take pride in it.”
While with the Corps, Andrew was placed in a prestigious internship with the New York City Department of Probation. He spent three months serving as an assistant to the Commissioner’s Office, visiting courts in all five of New York City’s boroughs to collect data from juvenile probationers. The information Andrew gathered, as well as his personal insights into the justice system, guided decisions made by Andrew’s superiors about what kinds of reforms were needed in the juvenile probation system.
After graduating from the Justice Corps, Andrew got a job handling internships and doing clerical work for New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development. However, after two years in this position, Andrew realized that the place where he really wanted to work was the Justice Corps.
“I felt like I could use my experience there,” said Andrew. “Having been a Corpsmember and actually coming from the same place that these guys, these new Corpsmembers, are coming from…I wanted to just give my own testimony and feedback and show them that they can do something with their lives. I’ve been there and I sat in the exact same seats that they sit in. I went through what they went through and I became someone different.”
Andrew took a job with the Corps as a Site Supervisor. Every day he leads a group of about 8 to 12 youth, ages 18 – 24, in a community benefit project similar to the daycare renovation project he helped complete when he was a Corpsmember. Most of the skills Andrew teaches his crews are skills he learned with the Corps over two years ago.
“My job entails supervising our participants on a worksite. I do their time sheets [and] I teach them how to do carpentry…I’m just teaching them basic skills like how to do plastering or floor tiling - it depends on what the job is. These guys are beginners and I’m just helping them get their work experience.”
In addition to working with the Corps, Andrew is enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College. He says he has taken a wide array of classes with plans to receive an associate’s degree by the end of 2013. He hopes to then get his bachelor’s degree.
When he’s not at work or school, Andrew likes to indulge in his favorite hobby: photography.
“Yes. I definitely still do photography. I try to make it a part of my free time any chance I get,” said Andrew. “I take pictures of pretty much everything. Anything I see that interests me I’ll take a photo of it. I also have a strong interest in studio photography.”
Andrew hopes to soon turn his hobby into a profession. He wants to open his own photography studio and do freelance work on the side. While his money would come from putting together packages and taking pictures in his studio, Andrew would also love to send photos to publications or use his camera to document red carpet events.
Completing his degrees and starting a photography business are Andrew’s two main goals, but right now he is happy to help young offenders get back on their feet. To youth thinking about joining a Corps, particularly a civic justice corps, Andrew says:
“If you really want to change then you should take the program seriously. There’s not a lot of opportunities out there that provide these resources and services. A program like this that offers work experience and internships - there are just a whole lot of doors that can be opened for you, especially when you’re young and you’re in this population, 18 – 24-year-olds. You have to take advantage of this opportunity and take it seriously.”