Year in Review Feature: Daniel Sanabria (’05)
A born-and-raised New Yorker, Daniel Sanabria (’05) spends much of his time building relationships with kids who are incarcerated, living in tough situations, or recently released from prison.
“When I call volunteers to join me, I’m calling warriors,” says Daniel Sanabria (Marketing ’05). “I need people who will go in and get dirty. I don’t want a checklist volunteer.”
Daniel Sanabria is executive director of the New York City branch of Youth for Christ, an international organization devoted to raising up lifelong followers of Jesus Christ. Youth for Christ works with young people everywhere, from high schools, to the military, to juvenile detention centers. (The organization also shares roots with The King’s College. Dr. Percy Crawford and Dr. Robert Cook, the first two presidents of King’s, were deeply involved in the early years of Youth for Christ.)
A born-and-raised New Yorker, Sanabria spends much of his time building relationships with kids who are incarcerated, living in tough situations, or recently released from prison. He also works to mobilize volunteers from local churches who can do the same.
He dreams of a thousand mentors in New York City. “In every neighborhood, there’s a believer. When a kid comes out of jail and goes back to their neighborhood, they need to meet that believer, because that individual has the light.” He says that mentorship makes a key difference in the lives of kids and in reducing their odds of landing back in prison.
Before the pandemic hit New York City, Sanabria and his team held weekly chapel services at two juvenile facilities, Crossroads (in Brooklyn) and Horizon (in the Bronx). Their visits provided time for a Public Reading of Scripture as well as individual mentoring. “We were the last vendor to leave,” Sanabria says.
When eventually the Youth for Christ team had to stop visiting the juvenile centers because of COVID-19 restrictions, they got creative. They started an art project called “Inside Out,” in which young people produced artwork around the theme “Give Life, Give Hope, Give Peace.” These artworks now hang on 3×6-foot posters across the city’s boroughs. Throughout the pandemic, Sanabria and other volunteers have continued to keep up with 12 young people who are out of jail through weekly phone or Zoom video calls.
Sanabria says that this ministry doesn’t end with the criminal justice system. It is ultimately about showing young people that they are created in the image of God. In developing mentors, he says, “I’m not looking for someone who says their calling is juvenile justice or that their calling is reaching prisoners. Your calling is reaching people. These are young people who bear the image of God. They did something wrong, and there are consequences, absolutely. But they don’t need to stay in those consequences all their lives. They need to hear a message that will open their hearts and help them realize who they are in Christ.”
To do that, Sanabria prioritizes spending quality time with young people and making himself part of their community. “I’ve been rejected, I’ve been slapped in the face, I’ve been cursed out. But that same person who cursed me out will later call me up and say, ‘I got a job,’ and I say, ‘Let’s celebrate.’ It’s a rough road, but any ministry is a rough road. I always tell myself, and I tell leaders, ‘You need to smell like sheep.’”
This story is a feature from the 2020 issue of Year in Review. The full magazine will be posted online on October 26, 2020.
Much of this feature is drawn from an interview between Sanabria and Hope for New York’s Tory Crowley. Watch the full interview on Instagram.