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Bemidji Youth Advisory Commission finds new parent group, new funding

The Bemidji Youth Advisory Commission has found a new home with Evergreen House, a nonprofit youth and family service provider.

The BYAC is a youth leadership group that was started in 1999 when the Bemidji City Council partnered with Healthy Community Healthy Kids to create a commission to give youth a more formal role within the city.

HCHK dissolved in December of 2008 due to a lack of funding. The organization included the Suicide Prevention Program, Kinship North and the BYAC.

All three programs now are under the programming direction of the Evergreen House, a nonprofit organization that umbrellas three main programs - the Evergreen Shelter Program, Evergreen Youth Recovery House and Evergreen Community Services Program.

"When the HKHC folded, we took over the suicide prevention program and the BYAC because we felt that it was a good match," said Beth Warrick, program director for Evergreen Community Services. "The HKHC board also felt it was a good match."

Because the city doesn't have a lot of in-house experience working with teens, Evergreen provides the nurturing role and oversight to keep the group on track, said BYAC adult advisor Joe Czapiewski.

The BYAC is partially funded by the city and a BYAC representative is given a chair at city council meetings and a name plate. The BYAC representative also scheduled to speak on the city agenda.

City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen, the council representative on the BYAC, attends all meetings and events, and helps Czapiewski.

"The BYAC is first and foremost a way for youth in the community to have a voice," Czapiewski said. "It's really important when it comes to giving advice to the City Council."

According to Czapiewski, the city provides the BYAC $1,500 a year. It is up to the group's fundraising activities, such as the main June rally on the waterfront, to raise additional money.

Czapiewski, who is now an Evergreen House employee, said his job as the group's adviser is to teach the youth how to be effective spokespersons and how to effectively take on leadership positions.

"(Czapiewski) works a lot a lot with other people here so it was a natural fit," Warrick said. "We are excited to have Joe here. He does a lot for the community."

Czapiewski spends 10-12 hours a month meeting with the BYAC. The BYAC currently has 12 members, all high school students. Most of its members are from Bemidji High School and the others are from Trek North Junior and Senior High School.

"For us, the main thing is that the city has been incredibly supportive," Czapiewski said. "We have a really, self-driven group. I'm just there to facilitate. The positive response from the community has been tremendous."