The health, safety, and well-being of children have always been important to Empower Yolo, and with the inclusion of a new youth program, we can broaden our reach to serve vulnerable youth in our community.  The Youth Empowerment Program is a new program at Empower Yolo, which provides advocacy and support services to unserved/underserved children and youth victims of crime, specifically supporting rural crime victims and foster youth.

“This program serves to support children in meeting their physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial needs after victimization,” says Celina Alveraz, Empower Yolo Associate Director.  “Meeting child and youth victims’ needs is far more difficult when their access to services is complicated by factors such as age, race, ethnicity, geographic isolation, language barriers, cultural intolerance, disability, lack of knowledge of the criminal justice system, and their rights, and/or lack of appropriate social support. To that end, the Youth Empowerment Program was created to reduce agency barriers so that children can receive supportive services to grow, empower, and heal following abuse,” Alveraz says.

The Youth Empowerment Program has many positive goals. It will provide an ongoing investment to strengthen community relationships, promote social norms that protect against adversity, connect youths to caring adults and activities and increase social-emotional learning.

The program has also expanded victim services in rural communities such as Knights Landing, Winters, and Esparto. The goal of the program is to identify affected youth, build trusting relationships, and provide systems navigation, advocacy, and support to unserved/underserved child victims of abuse.

Empower Yolo has funded a full-time youth advocate dedicated to providing services to youth in rural communities as a means to decrease barriers that many rural survivors experience. “Youth Empowerment Program goals are to increase access to advocacy, therapy, and supportive services for unserved/underserved victims of crime/abuse with a focus of serving at least 60 foster and rural youths in Yolo County,” says Ariel Graham, Empower Yolo Youth Advocate.

“I’m very excited for this program and to be in this role to help give options, provide resources and hope for the kids we work with; being a part of this program and partnering with other agencies to help empower the kids is amazing. Now these kids don’t have to look backward or upside down for help, they can look straight ahead and know they have support and see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for them,” says Graham.

These unserved youth have special needs that may be different from other children in our community, “Rural area youth lack inner city access to resources and transportation to reach supportive agencies to help meet goals. While language barriers play a part, our foster youth lack knowledge of their criminal justice, personal and/or educational rights and need to fulfill their transition into adulthood while healing from past trauma,” says Graham.

Empower Yolo provides services to help meet the needs of the youth in this program.  Specific services include crisis intervention, peer counseling, advocacy, accompaniment, and individual therapy. “Empower Yolo helps youths meet their needs by offering advocacy alongside resources and referral to supportive agencies; holding weekly life skill groups, maintaining confidentiality to establish trust and communication, case management to amend the disconnect between families and community resources,” Graham says.

In addition to providing individual advocacy, this summer Graham facilitated life skill groups for rural youth at the Empower Yolo Knights Landing after-school summer program. Some topics included learning about nutrition, dating and healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, creating vision boards to visualize new futures, and expression through art and painting.

Through the Youth Empowerment Program community partnerships are being strengthened.  The program partners with Yolo CASA to fund an Advocate Supervisor who will support Yolo County foster youth. The partnership has strengthened Empower Yolo’s relationship with Yolo CASA. The mission of Yolo CASA is to advocate for abused and neglected children in the foster system ensuring their voices are heard and their needs are met through our CASA volunteers. Yolo CASA and Empower Yolo both strive to be survivor-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive and this served as a natural partnership to serve unserved/underserved victims of crime/abuse.

“When we were approached by Empower Yolo to collaborate on this grant, serving children and youth who have been victims of crime, we jumped at the chance.  Empower Yolo has been a partner we consistently enjoy working with and admire for their important work in the community.  Any time we have partnered in training efforts or through community collaboratives, like the Child Abuse Prevention Council or Resilient Yolo, we have learned and benefited from the experience.  We share a common set of values and continuously work toward the same goal: serving families and children with the utmost dignity and compassion to help them thrive.  The Youth Empowerment Program allows us to partner closer than ever in achieving this goal,” says Tracy L. Fauver, Executive Director, Yolo County CASA.

Additionally, the Youth Empowerment Program has increased partnerships in the rural communities by partnering with RISE, Inc., law enforcement, Yolo Food Bank, the cities of Woodland, Winters, and Esparto, the Office of Education school districts, Yolo County Library, and many more to mend the disconnect between families and supportive services.

Community members can support this program in various ways. “The community can help the youth we serve by making programs like this more accessible, by addressing local issues and challenges like housing and transportation, and by more peer mentoring with collaborations to maintain safe and healthy relationships,” says Graham.  Referrals can be made by schools, law enforcement, foster parents, social workers, counselors, family members, and/or youths themselves and can be sent directly to Ariel Graham at [email protected].

Together with community support and local partnerships we can ensure the success of this program and continue to broaden our reach to serve and empower the unserved youth in our community.

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