YouthZone determined not to let cuts hamper mission |

YouthZone determined not to let cuts hamper mission

by Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – YouthZone had a 25 percent overall budget cut this year, but nevertheless, the nonprofit agency is urging local courts and the community to use its services.

“I’ve been scrambling and scratching for 21 years,” said executive director Debbie Wilde, of the youth organization’s financial status. “Now isn’t the time to get hung up on how we’re going to continue to pay for what we do. We need to focus on what’s the right thing to do for the kids.”

Currently, YouthZone’s budget hovers around $800,000. The organization got hit in the pocketbook this year when lawmakers cut federal and state juvenile and social service programs amounting to about $116,000 of YouthZone’s budget.

In addition, Gov. Bill Owens, by line item veto, eliminated approximately $126,000 from the local agency’s budget. President Bush’s budget eliminated another $8,000.

Wilde said the president’s budget has further cuts proposed, meaning another $43,000 could be eliminated from YouthZone’s budget in 2004.

But despite these dire financial numbers, Wilde said there are ways to make sure YouthZone continues to offer its services.

“Somebody at one of the schools questioned me the other day about how we’re handling these cuts. Somebody else asked if we were OK even though we didn’t meet our goal for Kiss-n-Squeal,” Wilde said of YouthZone’s annual fund-raiser, which generated close to $80,000 instead of the expected $150,000 this year.

“The message is YouthZone is here, and we’re still in business, alive and well. Yes, we’re affected by funding cuts, but what we are doing now is structuring our finances so that we continue to provide youths and their families with our services,” Wilde said.

Collaboration with the courts

Wilde recently met with a group of municipal, county and district judges, including Ruben Hernandez, Victor Zerbi and Thomas Ossola, to discuss the success of YouthZone’s intervention programs.

“We’ve had great collaboration with the courts over the years,” Wilde explained. “But I think when news hit about the budget cuts, some judges might not have been referring clients to us. We want them to know we are here, despite those cuts.”

Court referrals for young offenders have decreased over the past year, based on YouthZone’s calendar year, which runs on a June to July cycle. In 2001-02, 181 youths throughout the district were referred to YouthZone. In 2002-03, judges only referred 71 offenders.

That’s surprising, since YouthZone has a proven track record for helping young people get their lives going in the right direction.

“With the limits of its resources, YouthZone is doing an excellent job of serving the needs of many different youths in its communities,” said Shelley Molz, an evaluator who conducted a three-year independent survey on the organization from 1999 to 2002. “Of the clients who were referred to YouthZone’s intervention programs, 76 percent have avoided reoffending in the year following their offense.”

Judge Ossola agrees that YouthZone is a vital community service.

“We can write a million possession of minor tobacco tickets, but unless there’s some kind of program such as YouthZone, it has no effect,” Ossola said. “The courts are good at making sure the youth offender really did possess alcohol or cigarettes, but beyond that, these kinds of programs follow through and make sense of what we do.”

New funding sources

Now, Wilde is coming up with new sources of funds. She implemented the YouthZone Foundation to help make up for the shortfall in funding.

“We’re looking for founding members,” she said of the $1,200 initial fee each member donates to YouthZone. Wilde is hoping to generate close to $100,000 from that program.

And YouthZone is looking at other ways to generate funds, such as requiring youth offenders to pay for part of their own treatment.

“We find that youths who pay for their services are apt to take their responsibilities to the program more seriously,” Wilde said.

YouthZone is also providing its services to families on a sliding scale so that everyone who needs to be served is served.

“State and federal governments are backing out,” Wilde said, “so we need to look at new ways of paying for services. And we need to speak up and let our elected officials know what we think with our votes.”

In the meantime, YouthZone is here for the courts, the community, and for area kids.

“Our goal is to catch kids when the red flags go up,” Wilde said. “And when we catch kids early, we’re ultimately saving money for the entire community. We reach them before they really end up costing society even more.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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