Project BRITE (Bruins Reforming Incarceration Through Education) is dedicated to tutoring and mentoring underserved and at-risk youth within Greater Los Angeles. This includes working with the following populations: incarcerated adolescents, homeless youth, and behaviorally at-risk youth. For being one of two service organizations on campus that work with incarcerated youth, and the only student-led, student-initiated organization with a preventative approach, BRITE has been selected as one of the recipients of the Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement for Winter 2016.
Established in 1970, BRITE was created to focus on tutoring and mentoring incarcerated youth at a Probation Department Camp Site. BRITE assisted students in reforming their lives by encouraging them to pursue an education and leave the all-too-common trajectory that leads them to prison. Over time, the organization has evolved to encompass a more preventative approach to systemic problems by serving homeless youth and behaviorally at-risk students, says Amanda Tapia, Executive Director of BRITE. In addition to helping incarcerated youth, BRITE now works to prevent at-risk students from being funneled from public schools into prisons. At its core, BRITE retains the same mission it started with: to champion social equality for underprivileged and underserved youth, promote the dignified rehabilitation of incarcerated youth, and eliminate recidivism among youth involved in the criminal justice system.
In the course of pursuing its mission, BRITE has faced many challenges. Although practical and external challenges – such as having a van break down in the middle of a highway and not being able to go to the site – have clear solutions, internal issues were not so easily resolved. A significant internal challenge was the limited scope of the project and its precarious future, which was eventually resolved by expanding BRITE’s staff and establishing a solid board dedicated to the organization’s mission. In just a few years, the organization went from three working directors to twelve, and an internship program was established to cement the project’s longevity. Through the internship program, BRITE had tremendous success in transitioning student interns into project directors.
In addition to its board expansion, BRITE has grown from having one community partner to four, all of which complement the preventative approach to incarceration. BRITE now collaborates with education-focused organizations such as School On Wheels, ASPIRE Centennial College Preparatory Academy (CCPA), and the Los Angeles County of Education – in addition to its original partnership with the Coalition for Engaged Education (previously known as New Roads for New Visions). With this expansion in community partners, BRITE places even more focus on one of its utmost priorities, which is to establish trusting relationships with community members.
A large part of establishing trusting relationships is providing thoughtful and engaging curricula designed to meet the unique needs of each population, as BRITE’s students vary in age, circumstance, and levels of education. A typical weekly schedule of the services offered by Project BRITE and its community partners ensures that the students experience lessons that are frequent, engaging, and diverse.
School on Wheels | Wednesdays (3 – 5 pm)
Students engage in fun, hands-on science experiments and multicultural learning projects.
CCPA | Tuesdays and Thursdays (3:30 – 5 pm)
Tutors assist middle school students with their academic work and coordinate extracurricular projects that revolve around developing a global perspective, which help students learn about other countries, their governments, and their cultures. During these sessions, tutors also emphasize the value of higher education, often answering questions about college and helping students explore their passions and future plans.
Camp Miller | Tuesdays (3 – 4:40 pm) and Camp David Gonzales| Thursdays (3 – 4:30 pm)
At the probation camp sites, BRITE volunteers work with young offenders to make the most of their incarceration periods by helping them attain high school diplomas. Volunteers also assist with prospective college and job plans, in hopes to to lay out futures with stable and healthy lives.
Breakthroughs expressed by youth are monumental for BRITE and its tutors. Sandra Nguyen, BRITE’s finance intern, has dedicated her time to working with behaviorally at-risk youth and has experienced one of these pivotal moments. In reflecting upon her fondest memory, Sandra recalls a time in which a student expressed feeling incapable of ever understanding math. Sandra worked closely with her tutee on math, and after conquering the toughest problems, the learner expressed a newfound love for math and an interest in having a career dedicated to the use of it.
While students served by BRITE live within populations often ignored by mainstream society, Project BRITE is committed to closing that gap by providing tools young adults need to succeed. In addition to their educational and mentoring services, Project BRITE creates safe spaces for students to talk about the difficulties they face, whether it be personal issues, frustrations about systemic inequalities, or—as is often the case—the intersection of the two. With a group of dedicated tutors, a committed leadership board, and four strong community partners, Project BRITE hopes to impact every student the same way Sandra was able to motivate her learner.
For the difference Project BRITE has made to at-risk youth throughout the region, the UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows are proud to award Project BRITE with the Winter 2016 Mongelli Award for Excellence and Civic Engagement.