Office of Justice Programs (OJP)

Council of Thought and Action (COTA) Youth

BJA Program(s): Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program
State(s): NY

Jurisdiction(s): Suffolk County

Grantee Agency: Family Residences & Essential Enterprises

Grant Amount/Year(s): FY 2014/$10,000

About the Program:

The Council of Thought and Action (COTA) is a grassroots movement that has expanded from one New York community to nine throughout Chicago and New York. Founded in 2008 by Risco Mention-Lewis, former Nassau County Assistant District Attorney, COTA helps former prisoners and other at-risk individuals move their lives forward in a positive manner.

Through weekly meetings, COTA connects its members to community resources and service providers that include housing, educational and employment services, among others. Overall, COTA represents an opportunity to help individuals change their mindset and the culture of their communities where drug-dealing and gang violence are common problems.

The COTA Youth initiative works with young adults—between 13 and 24 years old—who are at risk of a crime-involved lifestyle and placement in the juvenile or adult criminal justice system. By participating in COTA, youth begin contributing to their community in a positive manner and take greater pride in themselves and their future paths.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance has supported COTA youth through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. In 2016, COTA received $10,000 in JAG funds. This funding supports the initiative’s outreach workers, who identify and engage at-risk youth, assess their needs, and connect them with the supportive community found in COTA.

Program Successes/Effect on the Community:

In September 2016, 18-year-old Malik Stoddart was fatally shot when a gunman opened fire into a group of teenagers. Following the shooting, COTA identified the young men who were with Stoddart that night and connected them with a New York State initiative that ensures youth and their families receive the support they need following a tragedy.

One of Stoddart’s friends was also shot that night. Since meeting with an outreach worker, this young man has met regularly with case workers. Although he was too injured, both physically and emotionally, to attend college, case workers have helped him to enroll in an electrician training program through the Department of Labor. COTA representatives now say he is doing very well in the program, and they’re working with him to find employment as an electrician once he graduates.

This guidance, mentorship and linkage to a career path has provided this young man hope and motivation to live a productive and fulfilling life despite the trauma he has endured.

Learn More:
To learn more about the program, please contact:
Risco Mention-Lewis
Deputy Police Commissioner
COTA/Suffolk County Police Department

Also see the following site(s):


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