By Nik Bonovich
Sacramento’s Office of Youth Development — created as the only standalone city department dedicated to youth in the Sacramento region — has been folded into the city’s Parks Department to save money in tough economic times.
Although the program will no longer be autonomous, city officials and community members say they think it can retain its effectiveness if it continues the kind of work that has been typical of its first three years in business since the office was created in 2007.
“They really have that kind of that critical thinking around youth development issues in Sacramento,” said Matt Cervantes, Program Officer at the Sierra Health Foundation. “They have convened meetings around youth violence and how to reduce it. They did a number a things that weren’t just youth programs but were addressing the politics and practices in the city that certainly affect young people.”
The office of youth development, with a $400,000 budget and three full-time staff members, focuses on four areas: support for the schools, youth and gang violence, youth civic engagement and building effective networks.
“Offices like ours need to exist,” said Lyn Corbett, the program’s director. “Some people focus on just one area of helping youth. We try to bring different people together who are working with youth so we can focus on every aspect of kids.”
A major strength of the office is its ability to use the city of Sacramento to advocate for youth and bring different organizations to the table to work together for the city as a whole. There are so many different organizations in the city, small and large that help youth and it’s not always easy for them to see what the others are doing and work together.
“A lot of the executive directors of non-profits are the bookkeepers and office mangers. They are wearing multiple hats so they really have to look inside their organization and not outside,” said Corbett. “But if there is anything about this economy, it forces people to think about partnerships because of the lack of funding.”
With the political strength of the city of Sacramento and the Mayor’s office, the office of youth development is capable of uniting funders and grantees. “We are really more of the convener. We don’t operate the programs for kids,” said Corbett.
Kaiser Permanente is one of the funders working with the office of youth development.
“We provide the funds to the city, they bring in a significant amount of services in-kind with staff and with the police department,” said Kelly Bennett Wofford, Community Benefit Manager at Kaiser. “During rough budget times we all have to work smarter and that is why partnerships are more important now because we have fewer resources.”
Kaiser has helped fund the Street Outreach Program and the Sacramento Violence Intervention Program. These programs are part of the gang and violence prevention component of the office of youth development.
The Street Outreach Program is run by the Roberts Family Development Center. It reaches out to youth showing them alternatives to joining a gang. The Sacramento Violence Intervention, run by The Effort, goes into hospitals and helps children who are victims of violence not repeat the cycle of violence.
In order to get the funding from the Office of Youth Development, The Roberts Family Development Center and The Effort submit a Request for Proposal to run the program. The city of Sacramento then awards Kaiser’s money to the best bid and works with everyone involved. “We still partner and we still work together with everyone,” said Corbett.
The office of youth development also looks out for smaller neighborhood organizations that feel squeezed out of funding from large organizations that may never notice them.
“It’s making money more accessible to an organization like ours that we couldn’t access ourselves unless we were part of a collaborative,” said Kacie Stratton, Executive Director of the Greenhouse Center, a community center for low-income youth in north Sacramento.
Besides working with outside groups, the Office of Youth Development looks within its own organization, the City of Sacramento and has networked city employees with mentorship programs. Employees were invited to a fair to sign up with an organization and mentor a Sacramento youth. Belinda Losoya, a code enforcement officer, partnered up with the Boys and Girls Club to mentor a young girl.
“When the office of youth development started this they helped you get involved,” said Losoya. “It is easier for me to go check it out when the city organized the event versus just seeing a commercial from the Boys and Girls Club and going there by myself and getting involved.”
Losoya said the city offers 40 hours of paid leave for mentoring a student, though she hasn’t taken advantage of most of it because she hasn’t had to leave work during her mentoring hours.
“It’s not about trying to get hours to leave work,” said Losoya. “This is something you really want to do.”
In order to bring high school students into the city of Sacramento, Michael Minnick, Executive Director of Sacramento Enriches, created a program with the office of youth development to allow high school students to volunteer at city council meetings.
High school students volunteer at city council meetings and are able to help out, but also learn up close and personal at a young age how government functions. Students direct visitors to the agendas, help fill out speaker slips for visitors and make sure city officials have the right documents at meetings.
“We have students travel from Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova,” said Minnick. “The students give a warmer environment to city council meetings.”
Minnick created the program to give all students a taste of city government. There is no long-term commitment and students can volunteer just once. There are about three to four volunteers at every meeting and most students come back to volunteer.
“This is one of those rare experiences where I can say it was a collaborative effort to start this program and we made sure we had youth involvement from the youth commission,” said Minnick. “In general it’s hard to bring people together and work on an ongoing project. We all have very different needs in our organizations. We all work in silos. This is one time we broke down the wall.”
The Youth Commission is a separate yearlong commitment of students that is run out of the office of youth development. The commission is composed of 21 high school students that advise the city council and staff on youth issues, allows students to participate in government procedures and provides a stipend in return for their work.
The Office of Youth Development gives backbone to the Youth Commission by spending the time needed to get their ideas implemented. “It makes a big difference if there is a staff person in City Hall to make sure it’s functioning,” said David Schenirer, Chair of the Youth Commission.
This past year the youth commission helped author a bill that would fine landowners if there is underage drinking on their property and supported the youth outdoor initiative that promotes outdoor activity among youth.