Our program started out with a grant from Mercer County Juvenile Probation 16 years ago with the focus on reducing recidivism. But the program was popular and expanded quickly; soon we began partnering with the local schools, social services, CYS, YMCA, Behavioral Health Commission, and many other partners to provide a summer camp for children and teenagers between the ages of 12 to 18. The camp aimed to bring youth together that normally would not interact with one another, and reduce anti-social behavior in the community and keep youth from committing any crimes or getting involved with gangs while out of school. During the summer we provide supervision from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Neighborhood-based Family Intervention Center, a Division of Children's Aid Society of Mercer County - Sharon, Pennsylvania, United States
I am on the board of two major initiatives: Weed and Seed and Communities That Care. Both have proven nationally that their model of achieving healthy youth outcomes through community based planning is possible. Through these and similar initiatives, we have identified the need for youth programming that addresses some of the area’s problems- such as low neighborhood attachment, family management problems, and gang activity (these are just some of the risk factors identified). Our goal is to provide an outlet for youth to come together and help them build character and develop self–esteem, respect, social skills, and build relationships.
The mission of Neighborhood-based Family Intervention Center is to provide intensive, community-based intervention/prevention strategies that hold the youths referred to us from the Juvenile Probation program to the conditions of their probation while strengthening the family’s awareness of resources that are available to them in the community. My program started out as a three year grant but it quickly became a vital part of the solution in reducing recidivism, gang activity, anti-social behavior, and truancy problems in the community. The county picked up the program as a county initiative and we have evaluated and added programming as needs arise.
I meet with key people such as school superintendents, principals, police departments, city recreation board members, social services, and funding sources to constantly improve and expand our program. Through a Pennsylvania Youth Survey Report that is given every two years and is conducted by Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, we are able to identify some risk factors that have affected youth in our area and we are able to combat that behavior by addressing it during our Summer Enrichment Camp.
For instance, we realized that having older youth mentor younger youth would help them understand responsibility and commitment, so we organized a Day in the Park event where the older youth worked with the younger children. The day in the park is spent by dividing into groups, teaching team work activities in the morning, and then having the groups compete against each another. At the end of the day the winning team gets medals. The day in the park allows the older group to take on a challenge and develop maturity and wisdom, and then they are able to feel good about their input and enjoy the younger group looking up to them. Because we live in surrounding cities that are small and are close in proximity the youth that are brought together run into each other from time to time and the younger group think it’s cool to see their summer mentors again.
We evaluate our program in several ways. First, we track participation and completion:
We also do an evaluation with the older youth at the end of the camp, and the following are some comments we received:
I maintain contact with all the key people such as school superintendents, principals, the police department, city recreation board members, social services, Juvenile Probation, Children and Youth Services and funding sources throughout the year and at the end of the camp a luncheon is provided for family and friends and the partners are also invited. The youth that attend the camp put a program together with the help of the staff to show what they learned through the summer camp. We know that the results our camp gets, as well as our efforts to keep our camp in the public consciousness, keeps the project going.
Outcomes from 2010:
The participants in our camp who were referred from the Juvenile Probation system did not relapse, and all of the participants improved their social and leadership skills. This resulted in 99% of the 36 youth maintaining positive behaviors in the community with no anti-social behavior, ultimately reducing risk factors earlier identified. These exceptional results help youth recognize their potential as positive members of the community while providing recreation and education at the same time. We have some youths who have attended the camp for 5 years and have maintained themselves in the community with no negative behavior. We have been running the camp for 15 years and are still running strong with waiting lists every summer.
Children's Aid Society of Mercer County's Website: http://www.casmercer.org/