YouthZone the link between kids and community | PostIndependent.com
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YouthZone the link between kids and community

For YouthZone executive director Debbie Wilde, the organization’s slogan, “connect and grow,” is more than just a catchy phrase. “We literally provide connections between kids, their families and their communities,” Wilde said. “We’re the connecting piece, the mortar, between the bricks – between social services, law enforcement, schools and the youth we serve.”Started in 1976 as Garfield Youth Services, the private nonprofit organization has grown to incorporate five offices in Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Rifle, and serve an average of 1,500 clients yearly. The youth service group has a staff of nearly 20, and is governed by a board of directors. Funding a challengeWith a yearly budget of $784,000, YouthZone relies on state, federal and foundation grants, assistance from local governments, school districts and community fund-raising such as its popular “Kiss-n-Squeal” pig-kissing contest. Social service programs across the state and country have taken significant funding hits. YouthZone’s state funding alone has been reduced nearly by half in the past few years. So maintaining adequate funding is proving to be a challenge, prompting the organization to take several actions. YouthZone started the YouthZone Foundation a year ago, and enacted a salary freeze. The organization also began charging for services on a sliding fee scale, and relying on community and local business support more than ever.’Kids at choice’Although some of YouthZone’s work is focused on youth offenders in Garfield County’s juvenile court system, Wilde balks at the perception that YouthZone only serves kids at risk. “That’s a label, and we don’t use that term here,” she said. “We call it ‘kids at choice.’ That means we’re here to serve every single kid. Everybody comes to crossroads in their lives. We’re here to show kids and their parents that they have the responsibility to make the choices they do.”Wilde said she and the staff have a little saying to describe this perspective.”Success is in providing the opportunity,” Wilde said. “People get depressed and stressed if they feel like they can’t control their lives. We don’t take responsibility for kids and their parents, but give them opportunities so they can make choices themselves.”Safe havenWilde said YouthZone not only works to give people opportunities to connect and grow, but provides a safe haven for that to happen.She said YouthZone recently received a visit from a girl who stopped by the office on School Street in Glenwood to turn in her completed Useful Public Service paperwork – court-ordered tasks often ordered for youth offenders, Wilde said.”I asked her if there was anything else she needed, and I told her we were here for her if she did,” Wilde said. “She was quiet and left the office. Forty-five minutes later she came back in, and she pulled up her sleeves, showing where she’s been cutting herself up and down her arms.”Wilde said by providing an open and nonjudgmental place for youth, the girl was able to make a connection in order to get the help she needs. “That’s an example of us being there for her – and for every youth,” Wilde said. ‘A voice for kids’Wilde said it’s that advocacy that has kept her at YouthZone for more than 20 years.”We’re a voice for kids,” she said. “We really are. If people don’t have a voice, they’ll scream. They’ll act out. They’ll get involved in criminal behavior. Here, they can find a place for that voice.”A huge piece of YouthZone’s success comes from the organization’s insistence on confidentiality and nonjudgmental philosophy, Wilde said.”Parents and kids have to have that sense of safety,” she said. “They find that here.” Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.comStatistically speaking• Average age of youth served: 15.• About 50 percent of youth served are being raised by both biological parents.• 84 percent of youth are Anglo, 15 percent are Latino, 1 percent come from other ethnic groups.• 76 percent of youth served by YouthZone did not re-offend while an active client or after the end of their program. What does YouthZone Do?All services are available in Spanish and English, and sliding fee scales and scholarships are available.• Counseling -Individual, family and staff-youth mentoring• Home-based support • Groups – Multi-week programs range from drug and alcohol education for youth age 13-18, life skills, anger management, and grief and loss.• Outreach – Called Pals, YouthZone pairs youth ages 6-16 with adults and older teens in its mentoring program.• Parent Education – Courses include “Love and Logic,” “Parenting Power” and “Family Tyes,” a course for the entire family. • Community Justice – Allows youth offenders to face and apologize to his or her victim, assisted by a third party mediator when appropriate.• Evaluations – Both alcohol/drug and mental health evaluations can help determine what youth services might be needed.• Court services – Services range from case management, court appearance assistance, useful public service, and more.


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