Grandpas Support Trust Building with Youth and Police
Guest Post by Dr. Jim Isenberg
Co-Founder, Grandpas United and former Exec Director, North American Family Institute
In 2018, my friend Frank Williams and I created Grandpas United in White Plains, NY. Frank, who is the Director of the White Plains Youth Bureau, had recently become a grandpa. I suggested that we start a group as I had not been able to find any organization that was entirely devoted to Grandpas! I thought there were a lot of Grandpas who were interested in engaging with youth, community service, and hopefully, having a new "purpose" in their lives, so, together, we created a diverse Grandpas United group focused on youth mentoring and community service.
We had a funny yet eye-opening moment when our local newspaper interviewed us and wrote a front-page story about Grandpas United with the headline: "Gramps not Grumps." While we had a good laugh about it, we realized we definitely had much work to do to not only establish our new organization in White Plains but also change the image of Grandpas.
This past spring, Grandpas United sponsored a "trust building," Youth Police Initiative (YPI) program for White Plains Police Department (WPPD) officers and youth from the White Plains Youth Bureau. Seventeen high school young men met five times for two hours each with 12 police officers. The participants talked about relationships between kids and cops, acted out "real life" scenarios, and played a variety of interactive games to "get to know each other." The program was a huge success. The Grandpas were able to join the kid-cop sessions and attended the celebration dinner too.
As school started in White Plains earlier this month, Grandpas United again brought WPPD police officers, kids, and Grandpas together for a BBQ. It was a sweet reunion now that everyone knows each other. Along with the tasty burgers and hotdogs, there were lots of "high-fives." The Mayor, County Executive, and Police Chief joined the gathering as everyone wanted to chat about how well the relationship between the police and youth was going in White Plains. It was great to see how our civic leaders have embraced our YPI program. They all wanted to be included in photos as their participation in the event underscored their interest in building a positive relationship between youth and police. It also was clear that the program is making a real impact on important "community trust building" and emphasizes the importance of father, grandfather, and father figure involvement.
For me, Grandpa Jimmy, it was an encouraging day as I had started the first YPI in White Plains. I created the program 20 years ago when I was hired by the National Police Corps to teach police "how to talk to people." Though we implemented the YPI in many cities across the country, it was exciting to get the local Grandpas involved again as we brought the YPI back to White Plains. Now Grandpas United members have joined the program to offer mentoring for youth as well as build community support for police officers.
There's no doubt that the YPI has been a positive intergenerational experience for everyone!
Grandpas United is now involved in five cities in NY state. We plan to introduce the YPI program in these cities as well as focus on youth mentoring, a Talent Showcase, Community Service Awards, and Community "down home" breakfasts cooked by the Grandpas. We look forward to the next YPI this winter, which will include police and young women.
As a Grandpa with six grandkids, the Grandpas United experience has introduced me to a talented, diverse group of Grandpa friends who care about their communities and enjoy working with their Grandpas United colleagues!
Jim Isenberg is the Co-founder of Grandpas United in White Plains, NY. Grandpas United is an intergenerational organization that provides youth mentoring and is actively involved with community service. Jim is the retired Executive Director of the North American Family Institute (NAFI), an organization focused on the development of innovative, community-based Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice services. He has extensive management, organizational development and program implementation experience in the conflict management, youth services, corrections, law enforcement, and transportation fields. He has been an Adjunct Professor at both the University of New Haven and Pace University. Jim is the creator of the Youth Police Initiative (YPI), a "trust building" youth and police program which has been implemented nationally as well as internationally. He has a PhD from UC Berkeley and is the author the 2009 book Police Leadership in a Democracy: A Conversation with America's Police Chiefs.