It can be hard to get ahead in New Haven, especially as a youth in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. But a grant accepted on Wednesday by the Board of Alders’ Youth Services Committee may make succeeding a little bit easier.
The state grant is a large one, to the tune of just over $640,000. That chunk of money will provide funding for a vast array of youth programming in New Haven — from mentoring programs that match up veterans and teens to youth employment efforts to The Escape, a homeless shelter specifically for youth.
The meeting featured a parade of community members coming before the board, all testifying to the good the city’s youth services do. One of those speakers was Kyisha Velazquez, who works for Integrated Wellness Group, a nonprofit that partners with Youth Stat — the city’s anti-truancy effort — to help at-risk teens.
“We’ve been able to really, really see kids that wouldn’t have normally graduated — now they’re with all the supports and services they have in place, not just for themselves but for their community,” Velazquez said. “We’re able to get kids access to things immediately where, in the past, there’s been a lot of red tape. Not just mental health, but academic support, basic needs support.”
Velazquez brought with her some of the participants in Veterans Empowering Teens Through Support, the veterans-teen mentoring program that the Integrated Wellness Group runs.
James Roy, a Navy veteran and New Haven resident who serves as a mentor to multiple youths in the city, said the program provides resources — not least of which is a stable paternal presence — to youth who might not otherwise have them.
“The family, the bond that we give these young men — they don’t necessarily get that at home all the time,” Roy told the alders.
Other witnesses before the committee highlighted the transformational effects Youth Stat and its affiliated programs can have.
Hector Alicea, a Marine veteran who works with VETTS, relayed a story about one of his mentees, a teen named Louis whose last name he withheld for confidentiality purposes. Louis, Alicea told the alders, called him up late one night to tell him of suicidal ideation, detailing a plan of how he might kill himself. Alicea was able to get Louis to help in time — but if VETTS had never existed, and if Louis had no one to call, the situation might have ended very differently.
City youth services specialist Earl Lobo had other stories. One teen, he said, committed a crime — a “stupid mistake” — and was facing up to 21 years in prison. But Youth Stat stuck with him throughout his time in court and testified on his behalf, and, in the end, the judge gave the teen two years of “accelerated rehabilitation.” The one condition, Lobo said, was that the teen stay with Youth Stat.
The alders approved the grant, but not without some reservations.
Board President and West River Alder Tyisha Walker, one of the most prominent names in city politics, raised concerns during Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett’s testimony about the process through which the grant’s money would be distributed. Under the current structure, an ad hoc committee — on which Bartlett, some alders and representatives from other city organizations sit — determines the distribution of funding.
Walker was dubious about whether that structure accurately conforms to what the alders have already agreed to, a state in which the ad hoc committee has a lesser involvement.
“We need to have some conversations about process,” Walker said. “I was part of the process from the beginning, and it has changed, and I want to make sure that’s corrected before we go further … If you have a process — especially a process that’s agreed to — you have to follow it.”
Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 agreed, emphasizing her support of the grant’s goals but noting that the alders were “a little bit frustrated” with differences in the distribution process this year.
Now that the grant has been accepted by the Youth Services Committee, it will appear before the full Board of Alders at a coming meeting for their final approval.