YouthZone column: Resilient youth find success through YouthZone’s community-based efforts

Lori Mueller
Lori Mueller
Alexi Molden

The experiences youth encounter today have dramatically intensified since YouthZone opened its doors in 1976.

When a young person came to YouthZone 43 years ago, they found a safe haven to hang out in with people who cared about them. Kids might have been taken on a camping trip or gotten help with homework.

The program was created as a grassroots response to the lack of positive activities for youth and the need for supportive resources for young people. In order to shed some light on the reality of the world our youth could be exposed to today, it is important to acknowledge areas of troubling concerns.

Parents are unaware of some children’s secret lives through social media and internet access. Today’s kids self-medicate more through alcohol and drugs in a world that includes a more lenient marijuana environment and access to much harder drugs. It is more common for kids to run away from home during family conflict, and YouthZone case workers report higher rates of suicidal tendencies.

The young people who come through YouthZone’s doors today are confused, frustrated, angry and lost. Children are coming into the system at a younger age. Many kids come in with three to four prior offenses in the court system, or behavioral challenges in school. Young people require more resources to help them to adulthood.

YouthZone has evolved into the only organization in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys that intervenes to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system. It has embraced innovative, evidence-based approaches to dealing with new challenges and transform how our communities respond to and support youth so that they can thrive.

The hard questions have to be asked. Are you suicidal? Have you been abused? Do you feel safe at home and school? Do you use drugs and how often?

And, YouthZone must be able to respond to those answers. “Yes, I have thought of hurting myself.” “Yes, I smoke pot daily and so do my parents.” “Yes, I have been raped.”

A full assessment provides an opportunity to analyze risk and determine the protective factors needed for each young person. YouthZone has invested in highly qualified staff to guide kids through their tribulations.

The case managers are given extensive training in suicidality, substance abuse, sexual abuse, human trafficking, physical abuse, mental health concerns and parental support. Our staff also knows how to support youth in positive youth development and what assets help create a strong and resilient young person. Clinical oversight allows YouthZone to go deeper with each child and provide a support network to their family.

YouthZone’s investment in evaluation leads to effective programming and specific measurable outcomes. More than 66 percent of the youth served show significant improvement upon completion of a YouthZone program. Less than one in 10 clients re-offend during their time with YouthZone.

Each year, YouthZone serves more than 1,000 youth and their families, making a positive impact on the lives and the overall health of our communities. The goal for each case is to support a strong sense of self-esteem, achievement, respect for self and others, and the ability to problem solve. In their continued commitment to acceptance, non-judgment and positive outcomes, the staff has created an environment of positive youth development.

Our youth are struggling with more serious issues than in the past, but they also have a great many skills that help keep them safe and flourish in their families and in the community. This valley is made up of many communities of strength and awareness that give us the edge on creating healthy and supportive environments.

If you or a young person you know needs an extra set of helping hands, please give YouthZone a call at 970-945-9300 to schedule an appointment in Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood or Rifle.

Lori Mueller is executive director for YouthZone.

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