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YouthZone hurt by state budget cuts

Donna Daniels

Gov. Bill Owens’ deep slash of next year’s state budget will mean the end of YouthZone’s juvenile diversion program, for this year at least.

Owens cut $43 million that also undermines libraries, teachers, affordable housing and health care.

Owens justified the cuts by saying revenues are expected to decline 13 percent or $1.2 billion.

YouthZone, a Glenwood Springs-based nonprofit that aids at-risk youth, had been needing to raise $359,000 in community funding this year, YouthZone’s executive director, Debbie Wilde, said. With the $137,000 loss of state funding, it faces a $496,000 budget shortfall.

Wilde said she had expected to receive $62,000 for juvenile diversion and $65,000 for a juvenile crime prevention and intervention program, before the cuts were imposed.

Between 70 and 90 youth are kept out of the courts through the diversion program, which provides counseling, alcohol and drug treatment and public service instead of detention, Wilde said.

Without the diversion program, “you just push them into higher-costing parts of the system,” she said.

“We’ll need another juvenile probation officer” in the court system, she said.

The Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, which intervenes with kids in the municipal and county courts, will still continue, Wilde said. But YouthZone will have to increase its charge to clients and social service agencies who use the service, Wilde said.

“A six-month intervention program with YouthZone costs approximately $800 per youth. Six months in a state detention bed costs $23,000,” Wilde said. “Keeping young people out of criminal activity improves the quality of life in our communities as well as providing astounding savings to us as taxpayers.

“I believe with all my heart that without it we would have more kids in district court and detention,” she said.

With the loss of state funding, YouthZone will have to ask for more support from the local community. The nonprofit recently launched its annual Kiss-N-Squeal fund-raising campaign, in which the person who raises the most money gets to kiss a pig.

“We have been heavily dependent on state money. Now is a good time to show the community what it costs to have a kid in the diversion program, and what part it can help us with,” she said.

“It’s not going to be the end of YouthZone if the community steps up,” Wilde said.


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