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Changing Lives


The program is outstanding and I love it. They help me with what I need, and they listen to what I have to say. I know what true friendship feels like now.

-- D.H., client

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Changing Lives


The program is outstanding and I love it. They help me with what I need, and they listen to what I have to say. I know what true friendship feels like now.

-- D.H., client

What We Do


Open City Advocates (formerly Mentoring Today) fills two gaping holes in the juvenile justice system.

1. Because children sentenced by DC’s juvenile court do not receive adequate protections, we provide zealous individualized representation and mentoring; and

2. Because the juvenile justice system too often fails the children it is intended to serve, we catalyze systemic improvements that will benefit all youth.

Our law student mentor-advocates support youth who have been sentenced in the juvenile system both during and after incarceration. Measurable outcomes include successful reintegration, protection of due process rights, and systemic improvements for the education, employment, and housing of at-risk youth. The data shows clear results – our mentees are reconvicted at one-third the rate of their peers who do not receive our services.

SCROLL DOWN

What We Do


Open City Advocates (formerly Mentoring Today) fills two gaping holes in the juvenile justice system.

1. Because children sentenced by DC’s juvenile court do not receive adequate protections, we provide zealous individualized representation and mentoring; and

2. Because the juvenile justice system too often fails the children it is intended to serve, we catalyze systemic improvements that will benefit all youth.

Our law student mentor-advocates support youth who have been sentenced in the juvenile system both during and after incarceration. Measurable outcomes include successful reintegration, protection of due process rights, and systemic improvements for the education, employment, and housing of at-risk youth. The data shows clear results – our mentees are reconvicted at one-third the rate of their peers who do not receive our services.

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A Unique Perspective


“My mentee helped me understand the kind of advocate I want to be. Through my training with Open City Advocates and my time with my mentee, I developed the skills necessary to be a client-centered advocate whose work is driven by client goals. I also saw how addressing issues in a piecemeal fashion is often ineffective because housing, employment, education, safety, and other factors are all connected, and a deficiency in one area threatens security in all.”

-- Claire, mentor

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A Unique Perspective


“My mentee helped me understand the kind of advocate I want to be. Through my training with Open City Advocates and my time with my mentee, I developed the skills necessary to be a client-centered advocate whose work is driven by client goals. I also saw how addressing issues in a piecemeal fashion is often ineffective because housing, employment, education, safety, and other factors are all connected, and a deficiency in one area threatens security in all.”

-- Claire, mentor

Why We Do It


Open City Advocates exemplifies both a highly effective delinquency intervention strategy and an innovative solution for improving juvenile legal defense. In DC (and in most jurisdictions around the country), the right to counsel is routinely ignored once youth have been sentenced by the juvenile court. And yet this is the moment when legal representation is most critical – judges no longer oversee the government’s treatment or placement decisions and parents have lost custody of their children. Open City Advocates provides this crucial legal representation when our youth are most vulnerable.

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Why We Do It


Open City Advocates exemplifies both a highly effective delinquency intervention strategy and an innovative solution for improving juvenile legal defense. In DC (and in most jurisdictions around the country), the right to counsel is routinely ignored once youth have been sentenced by the juvenile court. And yet this is the moment when legal representation is most critical – judges no longer oversee the government’s treatment or placement decisions and parents have lost custody of their children. Open City Advocates provides this crucial legal representation when our youth are most vulnerable.

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Living Values


“I was really inspired by Penelope Spain. Penelope is living her values. She demonstrates her commitment to leading through her willingness to experiment, her unique vision of a more uplifting picture, and her dedication to giving those that are silenced a voice. Penelope was driven by her desire for social justice to make a change happen in the DC community.”

-- Student, College of William and Mary

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Living Values


“I was really inspired by Penelope Spain. Penelope is living her values. She demonstrates her commitment to leading through her willingness to experiment, her unique vision of a more uplifting picture, and her dedication to giving those that are silenced a voice. Penelope was driven by her desire for social justice to make a change happen in the DC community.”

-- Student, College of William and Mary

Our Beginning


In response to the widespread shortcomings of the juvenile justice system and the unjust racial disparity of youth placed behind bars, Penelope Spain and Whitney Louchheim founded the organization in 2005 while students at American University’s Washington College of Law. For 18 months, the founders literally operated out of a closet. Ten years later, they have successfully stewarded $3 million to support many of the District’s most disconnected youth and families.

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Our Beginning


In response to the widespread shortcomings of the juvenile justice system and the unjust racial disparity of youth placed behind bars, Penelope Spain and Whitney Louchheim founded the organization in 2005 while students at American University’s Washington College of Law. For 18 months, the founders literally operated out of a closet. Ten years later, they have successfully stewarded $3 million to support many of the District’s most disconnected youth and families.

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Improving the Lives of Youth


“It was so wonderful to meet you both in person and to hear more about your very ambitious, righteous vision for improving the lives of youth affected by incarceration or other (adverse!) involvement with the juvenile justice system. I parted from you with a fire in my belly of excitement about the direction you're headed and so much hope that lasting, positive changes will result from your diligence. The world is a much better place because you are who you are and you do what you do - and so well!!”

 -- Donor

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Improving the Lives of Youth


“It was so wonderful to meet you both in person and to hear more about your very ambitious, righteous vision for improving the lives of youth affected by incarceration or other (adverse!) involvement with the juvenile justice system. I parted from you with a fire in my belly of excitement about the direction you're headed and so much hope that lasting, positive changes will result from your diligence. The world is a much better place because you are who you are and you do what you do - and so well!!”

 -- Donor

Our Name


In 2015, we changed our name from Mentoring Today to Open City Advocates. The new name better conveys our values, our services, and who we are. Mentoring remains a primary component of how we connect with youth, but advocacy is the true linchpin of our program as our staff and volunteers zealously fight to ensure that the voices and choices of our mentees are heard. Although most of our youth have lived in Washington, DC, their entire lives, they do not feel that many areas of the city and its resources are open to them. Our mentor-advocates help bridge the divisions in our city and open doors for our youth. An open city also evokes ideas of transparency and accountability. Through our community partnerships, we are working to ensure that DC’s juvenile justice system is effective, accountable to our city’s youth, and transparent in its policies. 

SCROLL DOWN

Our Name


In 2015, we changed our name from Mentoring Today to Open City Advocates. The new name better conveys our values, our services, and who we are. Mentoring remains a primary component of how we connect with youth, but advocacy is the true linchpin of our program as our staff and volunteers zealously fight to ensure that the voices and choices of our mentees are heard. Although most of our youth have lived in Washington, DC, their entire lives, they do not feel that many areas of the city and its resources are open to them. Our mentor-advocates help bridge the divisions in our city and open doors for our youth. An open city also evokes ideas of transparency and accountability. Through our community partnerships, we are working to ensure that DC’s juvenile justice system is effective, accountable to our city’s youth, and transparent in its policies.