Youth programs in state seek more funding
ST. PAUL -- Ashanti Gearld was at a crossroads. Gearld told lawmakers Wednesday that he was often truant from school and had problems at home. His future didn't look bright. Then, the 15-year-old said, his life turned around after working with a ...
ST. PAUL -- Ashanti Gearld was at a crossroads.
Gearld told lawmakers Wednesday that he was often truant from school and had problems at home. His future didn't look bright.
Then, the 15-year-old said, his life turned around after working with a mentor in a Minneapolis youth intervention organization that helps troubled kids.
"It's a great program," Gearld said. "I don't know what I'd do without it."
Many youth across Minnesota have had experiences similar to Gearld's and they have avoided lives of crime because they participated in early intervention programs, officials said.
"These children have done well with it, and the communities have done well," Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples said Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Public Safety Finance Committee.
The Staples DFLer is pushing legislation that would increase state funding for youth intervention programs by $2 million in 2007. More than 50 local programs receive a total of $1.4 million in state aid each year to help troubled youth find direction.
There are 23 programs in rural Minnesota, said Scott Beaty, executive director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association. They serve youth in Moorhead, Wadena, Walker, Long Prairie, Montevideo and other communities. Rural youth often enter the programs after having problems with truancy, chemical use or anger problems, he said.
Officials would like to see the programs expand to several other cities, including Alexandria, Bemidji and Red Wing, Beaty said. More state aid could help start those programs.
This is not a budget year so there is little extra money for legislators to spend, but supporters of youth intervention programs said more funding is necessary to restore a 27-percent cut the programs have suffered and to help more Minnesota youth.
Prior to state budget cuts in 2003, about 25,000 kids were involved in intervention programs. That has dropped by 10,000 in the past two years.
"What happened to those 10,000 kids?" Beaty asked senators. "My guess is most didn't receive early intervention services that help them."
Beaty said he is not optimistic that the groups will get the full $2 million requested this year. The Senate committee recommended Sams' proposal be included in a package of public safety bills, but its fate in the House is less certain. The bill hasn't received a hearing.
A program in the east metro has seen high success rates among youth who participate.
Paul Weiler, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau for Stillwater and Cottage Grove, said the agency serves an estimated 2,000 youth annually.
About 88 percent of the youth don't have any contact with the court system for a year following their participation in the intervention program, Weiler told legislators.