Thursday, December 18, 2014

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NYer of the Week: Rachel Barnard Guides Teens to Express Selves Through Art

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NY1 first met our latest New Yorker of the Week two years ago, when she launched an arts program to help teenagers avoid jail time, and since then, she's helped dozens of her fellow New Yorkers. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.

On this day, Brooklyn teenagers are combining their photos with images of animals. It's all part of Rachel Barnard's program that merges creativity with the criminal justice system.

"Art is an incredible tool for young people to have access to issues that they need to talk about, that they might not be able to," Barnard says.

So, Barnard helped create that space two years ago. She co-founded "Young New Yorkers," a court-approved alternative to incarceration. Sixteen- or 17-year-olds who are charged as adults for misdemeanors are sentenced to an art-enriched program.

"It gives the criminal justice system a chance to re-meet these kids as amazing, accomplished young people with a tremendous vision for their communities' future," Barnard says.

"Young New Yorkers" recently expanded to include a voluntary workshop in Brownsville.
These students draw inspiration to tackle issues affecting their community.

"I thought we could use art to be able to eliminate gun violence in Brownsville, like, show a piece of art that inspires people that gun violence isn't the answer," says Ya'eesh Muhammad, a volunteer participant with Young New Yorkers.

"Something that motivates people, gives them the courage to believe in their neighborhood," says Courtney Browne, a volunteer participant with Young New Yorkers.

The program also helps teens envision a brighter future for themselves.

"She helps me be a stronger person, and she makes me want to keep my head up and continue in life," says Juana Echevarria, a volunteer participant with Young New Yorkers. "It feels like I'm not alone no more."

"All of our young people left realizing that they have a tremendous amount of worth and that worth could be used in their communities," says Hemangi Pai, staff attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services.

Barnard hopes that these transformations put a human face on the criminal justice system.

"The way that I see them is as brave-hearted, gorgeous-hearted, young, wonderful people," she says. "They're just like any other teenager. They need guidance. They deserve second chances."

So, for guiding teens to express themselves through art, Rachel Barnard is our New Yorker of the Week.


For more information about Young New Yorkers, visit

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