Category Archives: News

Attorney Spencer Crispe Brings Legal Expertise and Passion for Supporting Young People to Youth Services Board

Attorney Spencer Crispe, a lifelong Vermont resident born in Brattleboro recently joined 9 other community members in serving on Youth Services’ board of directors. Through 10 programs ranging from program for homeless youth to a youth-led business, the nonprofit agency helps Windham County communities thrive.

Crispe is an owner and partner with his father, Lawrin Crispe, at Crispe & Crispe Law offices on Main Street in Brattleboro. He is the 4th generation in his family which has continuously practiced law in Brattleboro for well over 100 years, focusin on personal injury, torts, and worker’s compensation. Crispe brings to the practice an interest and expertise in civil rights, worker’s compensation and public interest law.

Dedicating a decade of his free time ensuring that Brattleboro had a skatepark for its youth and young-at-heart, Crispe, a devoted skateboarder, was a persistent champion for Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming from 2010-2020. Having been a social worker for at-risk youth through Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington from 2005-2007 as well as respite provider and First Call Crisis Responder for the Howard Center, he knows better than most the array of issues facing young people in Vermont and some of the solutions that work.

 “Spencer’s background in services delivery for youth, his insights into fundraising, his legal expertise and his deep commitment to Windham County will be a tremendous asset to the Youth Services board,” said Cathy Coonan, Youth Services’ board president. “As one of the newer and younger members of Youth Services’ board, Spencer brings valued expertise and perspectives that we’re looking forward to tapping in the coming months and years,” she said.

Crispe graduated from Vermont Law School in 2004 and from the University of Vermont in 2001. He has been a Planning Commission member in Wilmington, VT from 2009-2012 and was a Trails Committee member during much of that time. When he resided in Burlington, he was a youth center volunteer for over 10 years.

To learn how you can get involved with Youth Services or to refer a youth for assistance, visit wwwyouthservicesinc.org or call 802-257-0361.

Brattleboro Community Justice Center merges with Restorative Justice programs at Youth Services

The Brattleboro Community Justice Center and Restorative Justice Programs at Youth Services announced that they are joining forces, effectively shifting restorative justice practices in the greater Brattleboro area under one administrative umbrella and roof, a move long-considered by both organizations and heartily endorsed by other community partners, according to executive directors of both organizations.

“This merger will build on the strengths of each of our two entities, promote synergy and permit more resources to be devoted to community outreach for using restorative practices in area businesses and organizations,” explained Russell Bradbury-Carlin, Youth Services’ Executive Director and Mel Motel, Brattleboro Community Justice Center Executive Director, in a joint statement.

The Brattleboro Community Justice Center, with 3 staff and an AmeriCorps VISTA, engages with community members to repair harm caused by conflict and crime. The Center provides trainings in schools and neighborhoods; offers mediation around community conflicts; facilitates restorative interventions with individuals involved in the criminal legal system; and works with individuals returning to the community after incarceration.

Mel Motel, Executive Director of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center described the work of her organization as “building restorative communities where all people get what they need and “where we ourselves have the skills to respond to and transform harm within our own relationships and communities.” 

Youth Services, with a staff of 21 and an AmeriCorps VISTA, has a long and impactful history of serving young people and families living in all kinds of difficult circumstances in Windham County. Since its inception in 1972, nearly forty-nine years ago, Youth Services has been and continues to be a community innovator. As such, it was one of the first organizations in the state to embrace Court Diversion 40 years ago as a way to help youth repair the harm and address underlying conditions that lead to crimes. 

With time, Youth Services was asked by the State’s Attorney Office to apply this successful approach to adults in the community.  More recently, adults also benefit from its pre-trial services and a program to reinstate driver’s licenses under specific circumstances. 

Expansion in the last decade also occurred in Restorative Justice programs for youth, according to Sally Struble, Director of Restorative Justice Programs at Youth Services. Added in the last decade is a Youth Substance Awareness Safety Program and BARJ, which seeks to reduce and eliminate further involvement in the juvenile justice system and improve school attendance. Struble confirmed that all programs in each organization will continue after the merger, which will officially take place in July.

Brattleboro Community Justice Center and Youth Services’ Restorative Justice programs have long collaborated. Now they’ll be under one roof.

Mel Motel is expected to remain with the merged entity as a co-director of Restorative Justice Programs, shedding the executive director role while increasing her community outreach for restorative practices, something she said she is thrilled to be able to focus her energies on.

Struble explained that the two organizations have a long history of collaborating, striving to develop a seamless experience for the community that uses their restorative justice services. Now the public will be able to find all Restorative Justice programs under one roof at 32 Walnut Street in Brattleboro. 

A life-long social worker, Susan Stember Buhlmann, joins Youth Services board of directors

Susan Stember Buhlmann, a life-long social worker, recently joined 13 other community members in serving on Youth Services’ board of directors.  Through nineteen programs ranging from restorative justice, to mentoring, transitional living, workforce development and therapeutic case management, the nonprofit agency helps Windham County thrive.

After graduating from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Work, Buhlmann worked at The Brattleboro Retreat where she established a solid foundation in psychiatric care. From there she moved to Australia, working for the Family Court of Australia in addition to organizing and running a community-wide program for divorced families. While in Australia she began her own family of two children, now adults.

Susan Buhlmann, board member
Susan Buhlmann joins the Youth Services board

Returning to the United States, she worked in a variety of mental health settings including as the Regional Care Coordinator of the New Jersey Children’s Behavioral Health System and later was coordinator and supervisor of the Middlesex County NJ Children’s Mobile Response. In 2009, Buhlmann returned to the Retreat as a clinician in their Partial Hospital Programs and later as the psychiatric hospital’s Clinical Outreach Representative, promoting and representing The Retreat throughout New England and beyond. She presently works part-time for Bayada Hospice.

With years of experience working with adolescents and families in the mental health field, Buhlmann brings crucial insights and community connections to the Youth Services board, according to Cathy Coonan, board president. She says they are fortunate to have her vast experience when they are developing strategic plans for the future of the organization and trying to prevent staff burnout.

 “Susan’s deep understanding of the effects of trauma on mental health will be a tremendous asset to the board, none of whom have Buhlmann’s clinical background. We also appreciate her enthusiasm for our fundraising events and look forward to tapping her organizational skills,” Coonan added.

The most recent addition to Youth Service’ board resides in Brattleboro with her husband Willy Buhlmann, owner of Swiss Precision Turning Inc, a long-time corporate sponsor of Youth Services.  A “regular” at Youth Services’ Annual Golf Tournament with her husband, Buhlmann is no stranger to Youth Services, having served for many years on the Advisory Council of the organization’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program and as a committee member of its Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser. She now is a member of the Annual Golf Tournament committee organizing a tourney and Helicopter Golf Ball Drop for July 28.

To learn how you can get involved with Youth Services or to refer a person for services, visit wwwyouthservicesinc.org or call 802-257-0361.

Youth Services Hires Rachael Trill as Tamarack and Pretrial Services Coordinator

Youth Services has hired Rachael Trill as Tamarack and Pretrial Services Coordinator for the organization.  These pre-trial programs were first started in 2015 after the passage of Act 195 by the Vermont legislature to address a judicial system overwhelmed by many cases best addressed outside of the courtroom.  

“They are voluntary programs designed to screen for the presence of substance abuse or mental health issues to inform the criminal justice system about whether alternative paths at rehabilitation may be more effective than the traditional criminal justice system,” Struble explained. Tamarack is a diversion program specifically focused on access to substance abuse and mental health treatment. Pre-trial monitoring supports individuals in meeting their conditions of pre-trial release, and accessing community supports.

 As Tamarack and Pretrial Services Coordinator, Rachael Trill meets with individuals who choose to participate, and conducts a risk assessment and needs screening. She then shares an interpretive score of the results with the prosecutor’s office and provides the individual with information about resources to help address areas of concern.  

Trill is committed to working with the justice system to help people identify the underlying issues in their lives that cause self-destructive and/or criminal behavior, rather than focusing solely on punitive measures.

Trill’s academic interests lie in the intersection of social and legal issues, which led her to the Youth Services Tamarack and Pretrial Services Coordinator position. “Rachael is passionate about connecting individuals to resources that support their goals,” said Struble. “We are impressed with her understanding of the structural barriers creating differential opportunities for various groups and individuals.”

“These programs are in alignment with Youth Services decades-long work in restorative justice, which focuses on repairing harm caused by crime and dealing with the risks and needs of the person who commits crimes,” stated Struble.

Trill’s employment background has been as a supervisor in a retail environment for the past 10 years, maintaining cohesive relationships and mitigating conflict among clientele, team members, management and corporate bodies through impartial, positive communication tactics at Walgreens, Loft, Carter’s, BeautiGoddess, Rue21 and DEB Shops.

 Trill has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Professional Studies focused in Sociology from Northern Vermont University.  She observed Restorative Justice Panels at the Brattleboro Community Justice Center where she became a proponent of a responsibility-oriented approach to crime prevention and community building that she is now applying at Youth Services. 

“Rachael’s management skills, education, and interest in pursuing a career in social advocacy made her an ideal candidate for this position coordinating Tamarack and our pre-trial monitoring programs,” explained Struble. Trill replaces Adriana Hazelton who left the area.

 For more information on Youth Services Restorative Justice programs or to support these efforts with a donation, visit youthservicesinc.org or call (802) 257-0361. The next volunteer training will begin in June.

Mack Mackin hired for Youth Services’ New Intake and Groups Coordinator role

Youth Services is pleased to announce that Mack Mackin has joined the Youth Development team as the new Youth and Young Adult Intake and Groups Coordinator. Youth Services’ Youth Development programs provide wrap services for youth and families in Windham County, with a focus on safe, successful transitions to adulthood. 

Mackin will be working out of both Youth Services’ Brattleboro and Bellows Falls offices where they will spend their time conducting intake screenings, providing brief and stabilization services for youth and families, and coordinating groups–including professional development and support groups for Youth Services’ host home program. 

Designed to ensure a coordinated entry into Youth Services, Mackin’s position supports youth and families seeking services by linking them to basic needs resources such as food, transportation, medical care, therapeutic supports, and emergency or respite housing. 

“Mack’s role as the intake coordinator allows us to be intentional about how we support youth and families while making sure that we are not ignoring the often crisis or near-crisis level resource needs that bring them in to seek services,” explained Christine Linn, Director of Youth Development programs.

According to Linn, youth development programs are driven by the core belief that youth and families fare best when they stay together until the youth is ready to intentionally transition to independent living. 

Using a relationship-based, therapeutic case management model, coordinator and case managers collaborate with youth and families to understand family conflict and increase communication skills using non-violent communication, access resources, navigate education, child welfare, or other state systems, and connect to their community in meaningful ways.

Youth Services staff use an intensive, therapeutic case-management model to focus on building awareness and life skills in core areas of housing, education, employment, increasing permanent connections, health and well-being. 

Linn sees Mackin’s role as key in the department. “We’ve designed Mack’s role to screen for eligibility and need while assuring that youth and families’ basic and acute needs are addressed. This gives us the time, as a department, to assure that youth are connected to services that are right for them,” explained Linn. “By enhancing our groups offerings, we’re also able to connect youth and families who are waiting for case management openings to groups that foster resilience and keep them connected to the department.”

“Mack is a great fit for this role,” said Linn. They are deeply invested in solving youth homelessness and clearly place youth and family voice in the center of service provision and care deeply about assuring that people seeking services get their needs met in a way that is individualized.”  

Mackin is no stranger to working with young people. Prior to joining Youth Services, Mackin was the Kids Club Program Coordinator at the Brattleboro Boys and Girls Club where they connected with pre-teens and teens in its after-school program, developed programs and activities related to both services and professional development for staff. Mackin created a podcast that focused on harm reduction and mentoring. Mackin has served as a volunteer board member of Westgate Housing since 2019.

“Mack is a wonderful addition to the Youth Development team and our community,” Linn exclaimed.  Mackin has a Master’s of Science in Management with a focus on mission-driven organizations from Marlboro Graduate School and an undergraduate degree from Marlboro College, a cross-study between psychology, sociology and radio journalism. 

For more information about Youth Services therapeutic case management program or volunteering as a temporary host home in Windham County, please contact Christine Linn at christine.linn@youthservicesinc.org or visit www.youthservicesinc.org online.

Youth Services’ Pilot of Day-labor Program in Brattleboro Deemed a Success

Work Today, a new program of Youth Services, concluded its 3-month pilot period in November and the organization’s executive director, Russell Bradbury-Carlin, said they plan to restart it in the spring, with a few new funders and venues needing temporary labor in the region. Serving as a new sort of temp agency, Work Today’s pilot program connected 10 individuals with daily work in Brattleboro.  

Betty Bashaw, Work Today participants paints interior walls in Brattleboro Municipal Center

The town provided initial funding and jobs through the end of October but after a winter hiatus, other employers needing temporary labor are sought if the program is to resume operations, according to Bradbury-Carlin.

 “Typically we had more than 20 people in line seeking day work and had to turn away half of them away as we only had funding for 10,” said Emilie Kornheiser, Youth Services’ Director of Workforce Development, describing the popularity of the low-barrier work program among individuals who, for a variety of reasons, are not able or interested in working a 40-hour week.

The goal in creating the day labor program, Kornheiser said, was to meet people’s needs with dignity while staying in compliance with laws and labor rights. That involved looking at issues around worker’s compensation, identification and payment.

“Many prospective workers lined up in our parking lot before dawn, to increase their odds of being chosen for the work available that day,” she recalled. “It was striking to see the extent that people would go to earn a day’s wages. I was impressed by the pride individuals took in completing their projects well,” said Kornheiser. “When people were ready and able to work, they were able to make a few dollars, and when they were not, they were able to come back the next day or the next week.”

Work Today participant Joseph Hedberg often started his trek at 2 a.m. from the motel where he stays in North Brattleboro, in order to increase the likelihood of garnering one of the limited positions, despite having several broken toes which makes walking painful. 

“I feel better about myself if I’m working, if I can buy myself a cup of coffee instead of relying on hand-outs,” Hedberg explained. Formerly a licensed plumber and maintenance person, he tackles some of the more complicated jobs at Work Today with obvious skill, taking pride in doing a job right.

Hedberg stated the days go quicker if he stays busy and he’s more likely to be able to maintain his sobriety, now going on two years. With AA groups now only available on-line, he also enjoys the camaraderie he finds in Work Today and the lack of a long-term commitment. “Here I have a choice to work or not, depending on how I’m feeling. No one is going to chew me out if I don’t show up,” explained Hedberg.

The workers, mostly adults, identifiable in town by their blue vests, received $15 per hour for doing seasonal tasks, custodial work, and simple municipal maintenance projects, in addition to sterilizing parking meters and crosswalk buttons, a new municipal task identified because of COVID 19. “This program fulfilled a real need, and the unemployment caused by the pandemic made it even more critical,” Kornheiser stated.

 A coordinator staffed by Youth Services set people up with their jobs, trouble-shooted with employers, provided lunch and counseling services in the afternoon and participants returned back to work afterwards. Participants were paid in cash at the end of the day.

“The number one goal was to get cash into people’s pockets,” said Kornheiser.  “It’s was as simple as that.”

The day labor program falls under the same structure of DemoGraphix, a mission-driven limited liability company established a year ago by Youth Services as an employment and mentor program, a youth-led screen printing business.

The town of Brattleboro, which provided much of the initial funding, considered it money well spent. “The results of the trial period are encouraging, said Peter Elwell, Brattleboro Town Manager. “We look forward to working together with the Youth Services team and community partners to refine and grow the program, not just to benefit the program participants but for the broader benefit of our entire community.”

If you anticipate having projects in the spring that need day-labor or wish to support the continuation of the program with a donation, contact info@youthservicesinc.org or call (802) 257-0361. For more information about participating, visit youthservicesinc.org

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New Case Manager and Homelessness Coordinator Hired for Youth Services’ Brattleboro Shelter

Youth Services announced that Lana Dever has joined the Youth Development team as the new Youth Homelessness Coordinator and Brattleboro Case Manager.  Youth Development programming at Youth Services provides wrap services for youth ages 12-23 who are experiencing homelessness, housing instability or are at risk for displacement from their families or homes.

Lana Dever

Dever is based out of Youth Services’ Brattleboro office and provides direct support and referral services aimed at securing safe, stable housing and family reunification. This position is designed to become the local expert on youth homelessness resources and services in Brattleboro, explained Christine Linn, Youth Development Director.

According to Linn, Youth Services engages with young people through the age of 23 as they transition to independence and self-sufficiency. Using an intensive, therapeutic case-management model, the program focuses on building awareness and life skills in core areas of housing, education, employment, increasing permanent connections, health and well-being. 

 “Lana balances general case management with her role overseeing the Brattleboro Youth Shelter where she coordinates admission and discharge planning, organizes weekly house meetings, coordinates with landlords about maintenance issues, monitors payment of program fees and/or rent, and tracks data,” explained Linn.

 “Our newest hire is already using a wide range of skills to support young people with job searches and work readiness, budgeting and money management, and how to find and keep an apartment,” said Linn. “All of our case managers are expected to explore educational options for our clients, utilize motivational interviewing, employ youth-centered support practices that are harm reducing and trauma-informed within a social justice-oriented framework,” stated Linn.

 “A core component of our work is helping youth to understand and be critical of the innate systems of oppression that exist within our society. Placing the weight of responsibility on inadequate systems of care and support, rather than on the youth and families who face oppression–and doing so within a relational model–is incredibly healing for many youth,” Linn explained

Dever, who was herself homeless for a time as a teen, is passionate about being the advocate for homeless youth that she didn’t have during her own adolescence. “I’ve never forgotten what it feels like to be without a place to call home,” Dever explained. “I’m really excited to now be working in a model program to end youth homelessness in Windham County,” she said.

 In addition to her case management role with youth, Dever is attending housing-related community meetings at the local and state level and is tasked with “relentlessly pursuing knowledge and systems-change to best serve youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability,” according to Linn.

Prior to joining Youth Services, Dever was an activist and freelance writer who co-curated an exposition of indigenous Australian art at the University of Maryland. She has a BA in African American Studies from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

With deep local ties, having co-founded the Southern Vermont Chapter of Black Lives Matter, Dever served on the board for The Root Social Justice Center in 2016. Volunteering first as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters, she joined its board in 2009. Additionally, she was a driver for Meals on Wheels Brattleboro, served on the Allocations Committee of United Way Brattleboro.

 Dever was employed as a dental technician and practice manager at a local practice from 2003-2009 as well as a volunteer dental technician at the Brattleboro Walk-in Clinic.

 “We see the amazing resiliency of our youth on a daily basis even when faced with uncertainty,” Linn stated, noting that this special population faces challenges, from difficulty finding and maintain housing to navigating local and state resources that are geared towards children or adult populations — often times not accounting for the specific needs of transition-aged youth.

 “Lana is a wonderful addition to the Youth Development team and her expertise in working with similar populations and her first-hand experiences are key as we see an increase in caseloads,” Linn explained.

 For more information about Youth Services therapeutic case management program in Windham County, please contact Christine Linn at christine.linn@youthservicesinc.org  or visit www.youthservicesinc.org on-line.

Cathy Coonan of The Richards Group Elected President of Youth Services Board

Cathy Coonan, Youth Services’ new Board President

Cathy Coonan, insurance professional at The Richards Group, recently assumed the role of President of the Youth Services Board of Directors, taking the reins from Rachel Selsky whose four-year term has just ended.  Coonan has been on the agency’s Board of Directors for the past five years in a number of leadership positions.

During her tenure on the Youth Services board to date, Coonan has held the position of Vice President and has served on the Executive, Development, Events and Golf Tournament committees.  Last month she co-chaired a successful Youth Services Annual Golf Tournament and Helicopter Golf Ball Drop with Craig Miskovich.

Coonan has served before in similar capacities in the region, as board chair of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and as a founding member of Building a Better Brattleboro. She is active in the Brattleboro Rotary Club and serves on the Board of Directors of Garden Path Elder Living.

A commercial insurance agent for The Richards Group for the past 35 years, Coonan is a Certified Insurance Councilor specializing in health care and human service organizations. Coonan’s many contributions to the community were recognized by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce when they named her 2004 Person of the Year.

“Cathy’s organizational skills and her deep community roots, having spent her entire life as a resident of Windham County, will be a tremendous asset to everyone at Youth Services,” said Russell Bradbury-Carlin, Youth Services’ executive director. “Cathy’s analytical abilities and her calming and sensible problem-solving makes her an excellent leader and role model for the board,” Bradbury-Carlin explained.

“I’m looking forward to continuing the legacy of strong leadership at Youth Services and supporting the critical work that the agency does for the young people, adults and families in our community,” Coonan said.

Ana Saavedra of Edward Jones Investments assumed the role of Vice-President of Youth Services’ Board.

Youth Services was founded forty-eight years ago to help young people and families in Windham County thrive. In that time they have helped countless numbers of young people discover their own path to adulthood to become a contributing member of our communities through runaway and homeless youth programs, Court Diversion, our mentoring programs, substance abuse counseling and DemoGraphix- a youth-led screen printing business.

To learn how you can get involved, contact info@youthservicesinc.org or call (802) 257-0361.

 

 

 

Youth Services chosen for Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program

Youth Services is excited to announce a new project to end youth homelessness in our community!  Three years ago Youth Services staff and clients worked with local and state partners to apply for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project (YHDP).  Vermont was among 11 other communities in the U.S. chosen to test out intervention that address the complex factors faced by youth and young adults who are without a safe place to call home.

According to Executive Director, Bradbury-Carlin, Youth Services staff and clients had a profound impact on the formation and successful application by Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs to HUD.  From serving on state-level committees and work groups, supporting youth to join the state Youth Action Board, to conducting focus groups and analyzing data, Youth Services staff and clients were instrumental in this funding coming to Vermont.

Now officially a host for the federally-funded Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, Youth Services is one of ten organizations implementing projects to prevent and end youth homelessness in Vermont.  Youth homelessness is a complex social issue, especially in this state.  Vermont’s rurality, which is part of the fabric of our identity, combined with the lack of transportation, youth-friendly vocational opportunities, youth-centered public infrastructure and spotty internet and cell service make it hard for many young people to sustainably transition to independent housing and access resources.

“Through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project we heard from Vermont youth that they face many challenges that contribute to and perpetuate housing insecurity and homelessness,” stated Bradbury-Carlin.  “They described facing stigma because of their age or socioeconomic status, a lack of permanent connections such as trusted non-paid adults that they can fall back on in times of need, challenges finding stable and non-exploitative employment, unsustainable transition plans from foster care and a lack of clarity around how to get help,” he explained.  “We’re excited to delve into this project and we definitely have our work cut out for us!”

Youth Services YHDP transitional housing projects will be situated in Bellows Falls and Brattleboro and Rapid Re-housing vouchers will be awarded to youth throughout Windham County.

For more information about support for youth experiencing housing instability or homelessness, to learn about youth homelessness in our community, call (802) 258-0361 or visit our web pages.

 

See reports below for more details: 

Youth Homelessness Prevention Plan Committee Application to HUD

Youth Engagement Report

Friends For Change innovates virtually during COVID-19

Youth Services’ play-based after school club, Friends For Change, was recently recognized for innovation during the pandemic at a virtual forum hosted Vermont Afterschool, Inc. Comprised of afterschool programs, state agencies, policy makers and funders, the forum showcased ways that programs are stepping forward in all kinds of important and creative ways to extend supports to children, youth and families in their local communities.

Emilie Kornheiser, Youth Services’ Director of Workforce Development described her program’s transition from a face-to-face youth-led/adult guided, trauma-informed club in Bellows Falls to one where staff initially filling a “first responder” role, ensuring that disconnected youth had everything from healthy food to internet access to toilet paper to over the course of a month, the group successfully transitioning to a virtually connected, social emotional intelligence play-based group.

 “I’ve been blown away with the capacity of our team,” Kornheiser related, as she described not only the daily check-ins and school-work assistance that one would expect but nature walks on the phone to motivate the youth to get outdoors, virtual scavenger hunts in museums and deep emotional circles which provide the space for participants to mourn the changed landscape of their lives.  “Somehow staff were able to take that spirit and translate it into the work they were doing virtually,” she said.

 Because the club has been designed for and by youth who have stories of resiliency, Friends for Change provides programming specifically for youth who have experienced trauma associated with poverty, discrimination, and or experiences with foster care and/or family instability. Providing space for youth to talk with one another about issues they care deeply about has always been a hallmark of the group whose members range in age from elementary through high school. That includes validation of their gender identity and feelings of isolation which they may not be able to safely share at home.

“Sometimes our team and the other youth group members are the only people recognizing these youth in their own gender identity,” said Kornheiser. “When there isn’t a pandemic going on, this is an absolute lifeline; during COVID, it can be a life or death support that we are giving!  So this is some of the most important work that we’re doing,” she explained.