St. Paul Youth Services celebrates 45 years of youth support

An East Side organization, St. Paul Youth Services, will be spending 2019 celebrating 45 years of serving youth. 

The organization provides alternative resources for young people who may have gotten into trouble rather than sending them to juvenile detention.

The program originally began as a partnership between the City of St. Paul and the St. Paul Police Department, when an alternative was needed for sending kids into a juvenile detention facility.

The goal was to keep infractions off a young person’s record through a program called Precharge Diversion, which would provide youth a way to make restitution for their actions and learn from their mistakes. 

St. Paul Youth Services also has a behavior intervention program in which a specialist works within St. Paul Public Schools to help students improve their academics, behavior and attendance in order to decrease the number of suspensions and detentions.

While St. Paul Youth Services continues to maintain its Precharge Diversion and behavior intervention programs, it has now become its own nonprofit and expanded its programming. 

 

Help youth redefine themselves

Dr. Tracine Asberry, executive director of St. Paul Youth Services, said that one of the organization’s newest plans is called YouthPower Initiative, which brings together black youth to “reflect, express themselves, build skills, organize and advocate for serious change that affect their lives,” according to a description of the program.

YouthPower Initiative was started in 2017, and young people who are involved in the Precharge Diversion or behavior intervention programs can apply to join the initiative.

“It’s the idea that young people will make mistakes and they get to make mistakes and have second and third chances,” Asberry said. “We also want to give kids the opportunity to use all that energy and creativity and critical thinking to turn that into something powerful.”

Within the initiative, youth have the opportunity to use their experiences and ideas to help shape the community around them. They may help craft city policies with the city council, organize and lead public forums or share their experiences with elected officials. 

Asberry said having this creative outlet for kids is important, because the nonprofit doesn’t want to exist only because young people are getting into trouble.

The first step of the initiative, Asberry said, is working on healing and identity.

“A lot of times when our young people, specifically our black youth, make decisions that require a second or third chance, sometimes they’re labeled as if their choice or behavior is who they are,” she said. 

“So if me, as a black person, if I look at how all these narratives, if I look into those things, that really shapes how I feel about myself and I wouldn’t be a healthy whole person.”

Asberry said that at the heart of YouthPower Initiative is the idea to “honor youth for who they are” and to help them redefine who they want to be. 

 

Crafting policy change

The group has worked with St. Paul City Council member Rebecca Noecker, who represents Ward 2, on a number of issues, including a curfew ordinance and St. Paul’s Youth Fund, which is a program that directs 10 percent of all charitable gambling proceeds in St. Paul to nonprofits serving youth.

Noecker said she first worked with young people from the organization in 2016, early in her city council career. She was proposing some changes to the city’s curfew laws that youth felt were inequitable, so she sat down with some from the organization to talk about how the changes would impact them.

She said during the discussion, a young man walked out in frustration, saying he didn’t know why he bothered to show up because no one listens to kids anyways. 

It struck her and stuck with her, Noecker said, adding it was one of the lowest and highest moments in her career. She eventually pulled her changes due to the feedback from the youth.

“I don’t want them to think their voice isn’t heard,” she said, adding that the particular moment has driven her to engage more with the city’s youth.

Over the past year or so, she has tasked young people from YouthPower Initiative to serve as consultants on the redesign process of how organizations are chosen to receive funds from the St. Paul Youth Fund. 

“It was a really big undertaking, but they handled it well,” Noecker said, explaining they conducted interviews and talked with peers to collect ideas and data on how to change the process.

In the next few weeks, Noecker said she will be bringing the proposed changes to the city council for a vote.

Working in the community

Outside of their city council work, YouthPower participants also hosted forums during the St. Paul police chief hiring process and during the city’s mayoral election, spoke in front of the St. Paul Public School Board and gave recommendations to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.

Throughout working with the YouthPower Initiative, young people also receive a stipend for their time, which Asberry said is compensation for their intellectual work. 

“When they share their knowledge ... they’re sharing their intellectual capital,” she said. “They’re offering ideas and solving problems. They should be compensated for that.”

But most importantly, Asberry said, it comes down to giving them opportunities.

“When given the opportunity, because they have these experiences ... they’re offering solutions,” Asberry said. “There’s this opportunity to partner with kids so they get a chance to talk about ideas.”

For more information about St. Paul Youth Services, go to www.spys.org.

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com

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