Ursuline’s Lyons Honored as ‘Young Hero’ for Community Leadership

Patricia and Garry Lyons, Young Heroes Awardee Jane Lyons, National Liberty Museum Executive Director Gwen Borowsky and Ursuline Academy Head of School Trisha Medeiros.

The National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia today awarded 14 inspiring students across the region with the “TD Bank Young Hero Award” for making positive changes in their communities and only one from Delaware — Ursuline Academy’s Jane Lyons (’19).

In addition, Lyons also was honored with a special Spark Award, created in memory of a much-loved educator at the Museum who was integral in the expansion of the Young Heroes Outreach program. 

Lyons did not know until today’s ceremony that she would be receiving a second award related to her Youth Overcoming Obstacles initiative.

Jane Lyons with Debbie and Gary Johnson-McNutt, who selected Jane among the 14 finalists to receive the Spark Award (the red and blue glass piece) in honor of their son Alan, who worked at the National Liberty Museum.

Lyons was selected for the Spark Award by the parents of Alan Holmes Johnson-McNutt, a 31-year-old staff member who spent his entire professional career at the National Liberty Museum and died suddenly last year. His parents chose Lyons for her work with incarcerated youth in Delaware.

“Jane’s cause and the work she does with adjudicated youth really spoke to us, and we thought her volunteer efforts would resonate with Alan,” said his mother. “And we also thought it was wonderful that Jane has committed to UNC (where she will play lacrosse), because our son was a die-hard Tar Heels fan.”

Unique for 2018, the Spark Award was inspired to honor Alan’s dedication to supporting efforts to identify gaps in liberty. Gwen Borowsky, executive director of the National Liberty Museum, said, “Jane used her creativity to achieve change. Her spark has already led to a positive impact on her school, community and city.”

Lyons will be head of the Ursuline student council next year and will co-captain lacrosse — for the second year. Along with her parents Tricia and Garry Lyons, Ursuline Head of School Trisha Medeiros attended the awards ceremony in Philadelphia. 

TSD asked Lyons to provide background to Youth Overcoming Obstacles, the nonprofit she and her brother Patrick (Salesianum ’16) launched four years ago, for our readers.  (Patrick will be senior and wrapping up his final season as a member of the UNC Men’s Lacrosse team when Jane enrolls there in the fall of 2019.)

Jane Lyons received a TD Bank Young Heroes Award and the 2018 Spark Award at Philadelphia’s National Liberty Museum for taking initiative where liberty was lacking.

Jane Lyons: Youth Overcoming Obstacles is easier said than done. I am humbled by the Liberty award since I have only scratched the surface of new solutions to the age-old problem of recidivism.
 
When my brother and I began our volunteer efforts four years ago, we were simply trying to support a childhood friend whose life was upended when he made a serious mistake. We collected clothing and books for incarcerated teens and Delaware Youth Rehabilitative Services cottage residents in hopes of reassuring them that someone cared and believed in them.
 
When we learned that several transitioning residents were not able to attend football camp at their community schools because of a lack of resources, we organized a 5K and numerous other fundraisers to create the YRS Re-entry program, modeled after the Federal Second Chance Act. Through this effort, we were able to provide DART bus passes, identification cards, clothing, sports equipment, and bedding. One homeless family was desperate to move to a new community to give their son a fresh start upon his return from Ferris – away from the gang that he had joined just outside their shelter.
 
It was rewarding to be able to support his family’s efforts with a security deposit for safe housing. We liked being a part of a success story.
 
Later, when the legislature decided to allocate state funds for re-entry, I embraced a new challenge to reduce recidivism by developing an internship program for youth in transition. In order to launch the internship program last spring, I met with a cohort at Delaware Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) and successfully lobbied them to support the internship concept for residents transitioning back into the city of Wilmington. After the long process of selecting and screening candidates for our pilot summer program, it was my responsibility to find the non-profit organizations willing to hire our interns.
 
This intensive process led to four organizations who agreed to consider eight potential candidates. Efforts included preparing the candidates for the application and interview process and, in some cases, accompanying them to the interviews. I learned quickly that they did not want to be thought of as poor or helpless.
 
I was surprised that those whom I thought to be the most capable, qualified candidates did not make the cut. In fact, despite my best efforts, I could not place a very intelligent and conscientious seventeen-year-old who did not interview well, in part because his cultural heritage frowned on making eye contact. This was a tragedy as he was arguably the strongest candidate.
 
One glaring, common trait among the interns was that they did not understand the practicalities of obtaining and holding down a job. For example, one intern who had been making a great impression at his non-profit assignment chose not to show up for work one day because he had stayed up late the night before playing computer games. More than one person admonished him for his poor judgment but he did not realize his responsibility to others until I explained to him that his positive leadership and successful completion of the program were critically important to opportunities for future adjudicated youth. This epiphany prompted him to offer to work the following Saturday without pay. I wish I could tell you that this was the turning point in his story of success but that is not the case.
 
I knew then that our future interns needed to be better prepared in order to build their confidence and their resumes so that they will continue on a path to success and good citizenship. While most of us have a learning curve at work, I realized that adjudicated teens would especially benefit from a program that teaches the skills necessary to be successful at applying for jobs, staying employed, and other life skills that many of us take for granted.
 
Each adjudicated teen has unique life circumstances, but in general, they share the lack of a role model who goes to work each day, exhibiting a belief in opportunity through dedication and hard work.
 
Through internet research, I found educators at UVA’s Darden School of Business who had developed a successful case study program for adult prisoners seeking employment and entrepreneurship opportunities upon release.
 
Youth Overcoming Obstacles (YOO) Delaware is now partnering with Resilience Education to adapt this program to youth in our area. Our case studies will involve financial concepts related to buying a car; understanding credit scores (FICO); and, going back to school for specific skills or training. This inclusive program targets pre-GED students who have a minimum eighth grade reading level. To run this seven week program with two meetings a week, we are currently looking for professional business people, law students, and post-graduate students who are interested in learning how to conduct Socratic method discussion, and potentially transform the life experience for an adjudicated youth with a goal to succeed upon release. [Contact [email protected]]
 
My parents have always insisted that my siblings and I work – whether that be in the family business or for outside employers when we came of age. Service at church and in the community taught us to give back and have empathy for those less fortunate. All of these experiences have taught me responsibility in addition to problem-solving and critical thinking skills. In my view, teens who have been incarcerated need this most and are being denied these essential ingredients of freedom necessary to lead productive, independent lives.
 
The past four years have provided ample opportunities to learn about Delaware Youth Rehabilitative Services. Adjudicated teens in Delaware can beat the odds. 
 
The new Civil Citation program is a big step in getting help for some troubled teens without branding them with a record that sets them up for a life of limited options. The state does a great job of helping adjudicated teens while they are incarcerated, but I believe more needs to be done once they are discharged.
 
While I have faced my own obstacles, none can compare with the frustration I feel for those peers who often come from abject poverty with dysfunctional families – many of whom have been shown little kindness in their lives. When the wheels of justice turn slowly, the road to good citizenship is never just around the corner.
 
For my part, I have learned when to be patient and when to lean in. This has been an important lesson in perseverance, even when I think I could afford to pause, because for adjudicated teens, their futures are waiting, and the time is now.

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