Meet Aubrey Woods, Jr., a religious education teacher at Carmel Hayes Catholic High School and Community Outreach Youth Coordinator for his housing development. Having first got involved with the Interfaith Center of New York when he attended one of its workshops on working with troubled youth, Aubrey learned of the opportunity to serve breakfast to young men awaiting parole hearings at the Harlem Community Justice Center.
Born and raised in Harlem, Aubrey prideshimself in having lead Boy Scouts, ranging from ages six to young adult, for twenty-five years. It is no wonder that he finds himself volunteering to serve breakfast at the Justice Center on Thursdays. “My work with boy scouts got me interested in serving the young men here,” Aubrey informed me as he manned the beverage station. Aubrey’s relationship with his former scouts goes deeper than the usual teacher-student model. His work with the scouts has informed him of the needs of young men in this community, especially their need for a father. “I’ve become a father-figure to many of my scouts. Usually, their mothers would put them in the program hoping they would find positive male guidance.”
In fact, Aubrey is a godfather to three of his scouts. Anthony was his first godson and former religious education student. “Anthony used to imitate me all the time, and I quickly became a father figure to him.” After his baptism as a young man, Anthony chose Aubrey to be his godfather. Now a father himself, Anthony strives to be a father to his child the way Aubrey was like a father to him.
When Aubrey was growing up in Harlem, the entire community was like a mentor. But he doesn’t see the same community support anymore. “These young men need to return to a community that supports them, and that’s why I’m here. I love seeing them succeed,” Aubrey said with a smile as he handed a glass of orange juice to a returning citizen.
An active member at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Aubrey also credits much of his community involvement to his faith. “My father always told me, ‘Keep the faith,’” Aubrey said. What does he continually tell the young men he serves and mentors? “I always tell the young men, ‘Be all that you can be,’ and ‘Each one teach one.’ It’s clear that Aubrey is seeking to not only mentor young men in the community, but he is also ensuring that they will continue to be mentors to the young men that come after him.
With a grant from the J.C Flowers Foundation, the Harlem Community Justice Center, the Interfaith Center of New York and the Network in the Prisons/ Network in the Community Programs (Network Program) have created a partnership with the goal of engaging family members and faith community volunteers to support men and women returning to Harlem from prison. The initiative is called The Family and Faith Reentry Circles of Support Program.
The series of profiles of volunteers, staff, and participants, of the Reentry Family and Faith Circles of Support program, are written by Monique Claiborne. Monique--an Opelousas, Louisiana native-- is a Politics major at Princeton University. Currently an intern at the Harlem Community Justice Center, Monique plans to continue working for systemic justice reform as an attorney in the near future.