Lavoritano has been an APA member since 1991.
What he does
Lavoritano is executive director of St. Gabriel’s System, a faith-based social service agency in Philadelphia that provides education and rehabilitation to at-risk youth referred by the courts. The system includes a 200- bed residential treatment facility and a program to reintegrate those kids back into their communities. It also offers three-day treatment programs, including one focused on vocational skills, another that targets youthful offenders and a third for troubled pre-adolescents. Running the $30 million, 420-employee system is “a dream job,” says Lavoritano, who in 2007 became the first member of the laity to take the organization’s helm. “It was an opportunity to move into a leadership position in an organization that I admired greatly,” he says.
Mastering the job
Lavoritano began his career as a school counselor, earning master’s degrees in education psychology and counselor education and then certification in school psychology. While serving as a school psychologist, he began working with one of St. Gabriel’s programs and joined the system as director of treatment in 1993. He now draws on his psychology background by working to transform St. Gabriel’s into a data-driven organization. “When we first started pushing for data collection, there was a concern it wouldn’t turn out so well,” says Lavoritano. In reality, the data show the system is working — that, for example, young people who earn high school diplomas at St. Gabriel’s have half the re-arrest rate of those who don’t.
St. Gabriel’s relies on the “Sanctuary Model of Trauma-Informed Care,” which shifts the focus from what’s wrong with kids to what has happened to them. “Let’s say you’re late for work a few days, and your boss gets in your face and asks, ‘Do you have a problem getting to work on time?’” says Lavoritano. “You get defensive. But if your boss sits down and says, ‘I notice you’ve been late; tell me what’s happening with you,’ you tell a story.” The punitive approach traditionally used with juvenile delinquents doesn’t work as well as seeing kids as injured while still holding them accountable, says Lavoritano, explaining that most of St. Gabriel’s kids have experienced neighborhood murders, parents in jail, crime or other losses and traumas.
A tough guy, with a twist
“I’m a Jersey kind of guy,” says Lavoritano, who grew up in North Jersey and has a place at the Jersey Shore he enjoys with two adult sons and wife, Carol, a health-care executive. His latest passion? Yoga. Says Lavoritano, “I go from church on Sunday to yoga on Monday.”