In 1980 Operation New Hope (ONH), 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 of the prison walls and ONH began as a learning facility to educate and rehabilitate at-risk-youth before they were incarcerated.

ONH worked with youth 17-21 years old to help them understand negative decision-making and toxic relationships and to 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 that youth would no longer see drugs, alcohol and gang activity as means of safety. The goal was to produce confident, self-accepting youth who let go of past failures and focused on creating a bright future for themselves.

Research by Cal State San Bernardino and the University of California, Irvine demonstrated the success of the program. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has since listed Operation New Hope as a model program.

Today, the ONH continues under the leadership of Degnan’s son, Russell Degnan as CEO, whose goal was to grow the organization from a small nonprofit into a key stakeholder in the communities it served. Working youth throughout 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 in San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga serving foster youth, teen parents, youth experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental health, or who have experienced the judicial system.  Since 2010, 83% of participants who successfully completed ONH’s Career Pathway Program entered employment and/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 it provides are supported through reimbursement contracts from government agencies. This can cause challenges with cash flow. The organization and its board of directors are 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 that more individuals and businesses will discover the organization’s work and consider supporting it. There are also always 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 ONH’s website. They need to commit to one year and spend at least 5 to 8 hours a month engaged in a mutually-agreed-upon activity with their student. They should connect with their mentee once a week by telephone or email. Mentors are expected to model behaviors that will help their mentees grow into successful adults, be encouraging and help them develop a plan that will ensure they complete high school and go on to college, vocational school or to a job.

“The public doesn’t know that there is a youth program that helps those that 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.”

More information: https://onhcares.org/ or  (951) 500-2910

This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, October 2022

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