In 1980, Operation New Hope, an Inland Empire-based youth rehabilitation program, was founded as a court-ordered recovery program for incarcerated teens.
Bill Degnan, the organization’s founder, worked at California’s Youth Authority and was concerned about the number of young men who returned after being paroled. He believed the solution could be found outside prison walls and ONH began as a learning facility to educate and rehabilitate at-risk youth before they were incarcerated.
ONH worked with youth and young adults ages 17 to 21 to help them understand how decision-making and toxic relationships can affect their lives. ONH also helped this group of young adults learn to trust themselves in making informed conscious decisions that would lead them in positive directions. The program focused on reinforcing small, everyday successes and helping teens feel safe. In building these skills, Degnan hoped youth would no longer see drugs, alcohol and gang activity as a means of safety. The goal was producing confident, self-accepting youth who let go of failures and focused on the future.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has since listed Operation New Hope as a model program.
ONH continues today under the leadership of Degnan’s son, Russell Degnan as CEO. His goal was to grow the organization from a small nonprofit into a key stakeholder in the communities it served.
Working with youth in San Bernardino County, the organization leaned on its case management success adding in educational opportunities, leadership development and career pathway programs.
The organization opened two Youth Opportunity Centers, one in San Bernardino and one in Rancho Cucamonga, serving foster youth, teen parents, youth experiencing homelessness, those struggling with mental health or who have experienced the judicial system.
Since 2010, 83% of participants who successfully completed ONH’s career pathway program were later employed or enrolled in higher education or technical schools.
“We welcome people where they are at,” Russell Degnan said. “If you came here homeless, we aren’t going to expect you to be further along than that. We’ll help you from wherever you need to start.”
ONH continues to grow its programming and many of the programs are supported through reimbursement contracts from government agencies. The organization and its board of directors is working to build a more robust income stream that includes more philanthropic support.
Recently, ONH received a Community Impact grant through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. Degnan hopes others will discover the organization’s work and consider supporting. There are also openings for adult mentors.
“Not everyone has the finances to give but if they want to give back they can be a mentor,” Degnan said. “We match up youth with an adult professional for a one-year commitment, which has proven to increase the success rate.”
Individuals wishing to mentor can sign up through the ONH’s website. Expectations include a one year commitment to spend 5 to 8 hours a month engaged in a mutually agreed upon activity and a once a week connection by telephone or email. Mentors are expected to model behaviors that will help their mentee grow into successful adults, be encouraging and help develop a plan to ensure they complete high school and prepare for a future, that could include college, vocational schooling or a job.
“The public doesn’t know that there is a youth program that helps those who didn’t graduate or are out of high school,” Degnan said “We have 1,000 youth and if we could get 300 with a mentor, as a society we are going to be a better place.”
Information: https://onhcares.org/ or 951-500-2910.
Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.