GUEST - Community Center for Youth supports teens

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The Community Center for Youth needs your help.

Adolescence for any teen, but especially for low-income, at-risk teens, is a critical time. Research - and our experience - has shown that if teens receive the positive attention and support they need from family, school, caring adults, their peers and broader society, they will most likely become happy, productive adults.

But if these protective factors are lacking their chances for a positive future are greatly diminished.

A recent survey carried out by the Walla Walla Children's Forum among local children and teens found that, on a daily basis, a significant share of teens in our Valley experience adverse situations, such as poverty, neglect and abuse, household substance abuse, mental illness, parental divorce or separation, are witnesses to domestic violence and experience, as well, other stressful situations.

These experiences, in addition to the challenges teens face simply due to the adolescent experience, are a lot for them to cope with on their own. They need everyone's support.

By providing a safe place where teens can hang out, make friends and engage in fun and formative activities with other teens and well-trained and caring adults, CCY builds up the protective factors that support teen development and teaches them a number of important "resiliency skills."

These skills help prepare our teens to become productive and happy adults, while providing them with enjoyable and memorable teen-age experiences.

CCY is a safe haven for teens here in Walla Walla, where there's a definite lack of sufficient supervised, free or low-cost recreational programs to serve the more than 8,000 teens who reside in Walla Walla County, 22 percent of whom live in poverty.

Many parents and guardians have told us how happy they are about the service and attention CCY provides for their teens, and the positive changes they have seen as a result of their participating in CCY programs. CCY staff also rejoice to see firsthand how our members grow and thrive.

Recent community-wide surveys and studies have placed "gang prevention" at the top of the community's list of most urgent priorities, yet funding for CCY - due to the current economic recession - has declined sharply.

However, CCY is one of the strongest alternatives to gang involvement because CCY gives kids identity with a supportive peer group. When compared to the cost to society of not providing teens with the support they need, one finds that investing in programs like CCY is intelligent and economical.

For example, it costs taxpayers $150 per day to keep a teen at the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center; that figure jumps to $93,800 per year per teen at the State Juvenile Rehabilitation Center. The value of helping even one at-risk youth attain a path toward positive growth and develop into a happy, productive adult is priceless!

A major study carried out in California to evaluate the cost/benefit of after-school and evening programs for youths found: Expenditure on well-designed after-school and evening programs for at-risk youths yields "remarkable benefits" that far outweigh the costs.

These benefits include:

  • Reduced child-care costs.
  • Improved school performance.
  • Increased compensation over youth's lifespan.
  • Reduced crime costs.
  • Reduced welfare costs.

"Diverting even less than one percent of participating at-risk youths from a life of crime saves several times the cost of the program. Even excluding these substantial crime reduction benefits, such programs are cost effective."

With the drastic reduction in funding that CCY is experiencing, how can we continue to offer vital services to teens in the Valley?

We invite the public to contact us, learn more about CCY's youths, programs, staff and achievements, and about how you can help ensure a brighter future for our teens and for our community.

For more information, call 509-526-2571, write to P.O. Box 2291 Walla Walla, WA 99362, or at info@wwccy.org ; visit our website at www.wwccy.org or visit us Facebook at www.facebook.com/WallaWalla2CCY Community Center for Youth.

Cynthia Selde is director of programs and operations at the Community Center for Youth.

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