Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer youth strategy moves ahead


After working quietly and steadily for a month, a group of community leaders tasked with curbing youth violence returned for another early morning meeting on Monday to give an update on their progress.
Officials now have 82 youth identified who will take part in a short-term summer program that could serve as a model for future efforts to draw down violence among South Coast teens.

In essence, the summer strategy is described as a holistic approach of developing individual support plans for each participant and creating a link to youth service agencies throughout the community.
“It really is a breakdown of barriers between various agencies,” Superintendent Dr. Brian Sarvis said.
In recent weeks, organizers have met with school counselors to outline the plan and gain their support. Fred Razo, the County Education Office’s director of juvenile court and community schools, said those counselors are all on board with the project.
The issue now is tying in resources — such as counseling, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and academic support — as individualized plans are developed for each participant, he said.
“This plan has been like building a boat on water and trying to patch those leaks before we take on passengers,” Razo said.
Even as organizers meet with students and start developing support plans, nonprofit agency representatives reported success in getting teens involved in summer programs.
Gloria Sanchez Arreola, a foster youth liaison with the County Education Office, said graduates from Los Prietos Boys Camp are going through an in-depth interview and assessment process to identify their personal and educational goals. Many are obtaining summer jobs, attending summer school or participating in other youth programs, she said.
Half of those teens identified by the summer strategy committee are already working with Zona Seca’s Youth CineMedia program, Executive Director Frank Banales said, working on film projects with the hopes of earning a screening at upcoming film festivals.
Bill Batty, executive director of Family Service Agency, said efforts on compiling an inventory of youth service programs is coming closer to fruition. Drafts of a narrow, youth violence-focused inventory and a broader, youth and family-centered inventory, are in the process of being revised.
A pocket guide in English and Spanish is also in draft form and should be finalized in the next month.
As updates on short-term efforts wound down, leaders took up the issue of ensuring immediate strategies carry over into the future.
City Administrator Jim Armstrong outlined the formation of a long-term strategy committee, a group of leaders from schools, law enforcement, nonprofits and the community to develop an organizational structure that will institutionalize collaborative efforts.
Priorities include maintaining funding and learning from past efforts to reduce youth violence. But Don Olson, the city’s director of special projects, emphasized the importance of ensuring a collaborative atmosphere endures the test of time.
“That would be new for this community,” he said. “…We’re breaking ground here.”
Organizers also heard from Nancy Rapp, the city’s director of parks and recreation, on efforts to find summer jobs for local teens.
Rapp highlighted an array of youth job programs, each with different criteria. The issue, she said, is kids don’t know how to find a job, emphasizing the importance of establishing a referral system in addition to working with the business community to cultivate job opportunities.
“It’s really about investing in our community and our youth,” she said.
Her short-term plan involves creating an inventory of job programs, open lines of communication, link youth through referrals, and create an organizational identity with a phone number and Web site. Rapp noted the parks and recreation department is dedicating a position to help launch the youth employment effort.
Finally, the group heard from leaders with the Collaborative Communities Foundation on a recent community forum. After surveying more than 400 local teens, CCF organizers brought together 190 participants to discuss youth violence issues in late May.
Rather than community leaders and elected officials, the forum focused on those working in the streets and the teens themselves.
“The thing we’re missing is the voice of the kids,” said Judi Weisbart, a CCF associate. “…We think we know what they want, but if we knew, we wouldn’t have the problem.”
Many of the 65 local teens who attended the daylong event related personal stories of how violence has affected them.
“We really went to the heart,” Weisbart said.
Youth also weighed in on what they want to see in their community and neighborhoods. Free transportation to activities or community centers topped the list, along with more youth centers, sanctioned forms of expression such as art or music events, and neighborhood gatherings.
Data collected through surveys and forum discussions is being analyzed by a UC Santa Barbara researcher and will be made available.
CCF organizers also created groups focused on a series of initiatives, including engaging law enforcement, teachers and schools, and girls empowerment. Participants gathered to develop action steps on each issue.
Results of a survey given both before and after the forum suggested confidence grew among participants, as more responded positively when asked if they feel they can make a difference in their neighborhood, among other questions.
Community leaders plan to forge ahead on their various strategies and tasks in the coming weeks, with the next update session tentatively planned for July 7.

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