The group calling itself the Carlisle Youth Initiative isn’t exactly sure what it is yet — but that’s part of the process.
The third in a series of meetings for the initiative was held Monday night at YWCA Carlisle, and was led by Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis, who has taken a central role in organizing programs for at-risk youths since his arrival in the borough a year ago.
“We’re investing the time now so we don’t have to build jails later,” Landis said.
The initiative is not meant to be a new youth program in and of itself, but rather a way in which Carlisle’s various businesses, nonprofits and government agencies can coordinate their efforts to reach a wider range of youths and potentially get more funding.
“We’re not starting something new. What we’re doing here is bringing together what’s already out there,” Landis said. “There’s not a program out there that doesn’t need money.”
The YWCA’s GirlPower!, the Carlisle Victory Circle, as well as startups for youth exercise and martial arts were all cited as building blocks of a communitywide initiative, and Carlisle Fire Chief Jeffrey Snyder also discussed the department’s efforts to expand its junior firefighter program.
Focus on growth
But how to take such programs from having a handful of students to having dozens, or potentially hundreds, is another matter.
Programs that have a deep impact on youths, and contribute to their success later in life, require not just arms-length financing, but a massive amount of time.
“That’s what we need more of — that loyalty, consistency and trust,” said Carrie Breschi, a consultant who volunteers with the Carlisle Arts Learning Center. “They need deep, meaningful relationships ... not just the Band-Aid effect.”
“The most effective programs are things that get them out there and understanding that there are jobs in the community for them,” said Diane Chido, who relayed her son’s difficult high school transition that was helped by an internship with the Carlisle Police Department.
As he has in other meetings, Landis expressed his interest in a study often referenced by the Brookings Institution regarding impoverished youths. That study, initially done in 2009, showed three strong determining factors — whether the person graduated high school, worked full time, and married and/or had children after age 21.
Only 2 percent of households that followed all three norms were in poverty, whereas 76 percent of those who followed none of the three were in poverty.
The question with that study is one of causation — Brookings noted that, while there is an element of individual choice over those three norms, there are also environmental factors.
Poor students move to different school districts more often, and are less likely to receive sexual education or be able to afford birth control. The three factors cited are not necessarily causative, but are certainly symptomatic.
Those present Monday night agreed that at-risk students need more than just periodic reminders to study for school and practice safe sex.
“Those three things should never be something we have to say to a kid directly,” Landis said.
Rather, it’s a matter of building relationships with youths in order to acclimate them to a risk-reward environment, and showing them that opportunities are available if they stay dedicated.
But more than funding or advertising, this takes commitment.
“I have kids on the waiting list because we don’t have enough adults,” said Barrie Ann George of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, which maintains a staff to help youths who may be struggling in school or facing sexual pressure.
“It is a professional endeavor to keep these kids on the straight and narrow. It’s not a few hours once a month,” George said.
Participants at Mondays’ meeting also discussed how to connect youths with available programs.
“If you tell the kids, ‘This is where you need to be,’ they’re going to be anywhere but,” said Carlisle Area School District Assistant Superintendent Colleen Friend, who suggested some type of softer interaction by community groups — possibly during school lunches — as a way to introduce students to new programs.
So what would the Carlisle Youth Initiative do to facilitate something like this? The answer was still murky. The group seemed to agree that it should not itself be a new legal entity.
“I don’t’ think we want to be a new 501©3 that competes with others,” Carlisle school board member Rick Coplen said.
“We should be helping to get additional funds for [community programs] once we figure out what they want to offer and what their shortfalls are,” said Joe Nunez, an activist with the Nottingham Valley Meadows Association.
The group plans to have additional meetings in the spring. Anyone interested in getting involved should contact YWCA Executive Director Robin Scaer at firstname.lastname@example.org.