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Changing Young Lives for the Better at Waterbury Youth Service System, Inc.

By Marina Jokic

Jennifer Warriner, Grants and Development Manager at Waterbury Youth Service System, Inc. explains the major issues that the organization tackles on a daily basis. One issue affecting many children and families is chronic absenteeism, which Warriner says is a family problem that must be dealt with in a timely fashion. Parents must reinforce the value of attending school as an integral part of their child's upbringing. The Truancy Program at WYS has served 503 youth so far this academic year, and approximately one third of them are in elementary school.

"Our Juvenile Review Board works with youth and families who have exhibited disruptive behaviors at school or in the community to help them learn from the experience and keep them out of the criminal justice system," says Warriner. The center also coordinates CAIT, the Child Abuse Interdisciplinary Team, which focuses its efforts on resolving child abuse cases expediently and ensuring that the child is out of harm's way.

Homelessness is another challenge the organization has to deal with. WYS operates a Youth Drop-In on Saturday mornings to assist youngsters ages 10 to 24, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with much needed clothing, food, and resources. Families are also afforded case management to identify barriers to school attendance and then connect them to resources that address their needs. The center urges community residents to help at risk youth by speaking with them and directing them to the Youth Drop-In.

The Summer Youth Employment Program connects children to paid work opportunities during the summer. The after school programs offer paid monthly stipends for regular attendance, and consist of tutoring, monitoring school performance, and a work experience component. Woodworking and journalism are just a couple of examples of the rich variety of current offerings, says Warriner. Students can choose an internship that might turn into a permanent career opportunity.

The program encourages children to hone their skills and deepen their interest in a particular area. An additional job program is the CHAPS/CHEER, which works with children who grow out of DCF care to help them secure housing, training, and employment so they can become independent and self-sufficient.

Another important facet of the program is tutoring. If a child's grade falls below 80%, he or she must receive one-on-one turtoring. WYS monitors academic performance and requires children to attend school in order to participate in any extra curriculum programs. Warriner adds that the center also works to identify post-high school options, such as arranging visits to colleges, SAT preparation, and instructions on how to complete the FASFA.

For adults who are struggling to find work and have an interest in early childhood development, Warriner recommends the POWER Program, which teaches participants the licensing and operational requirements necessary to become a licensed day care provider. This course is conducted entirely in Spanish, and graduates remain connected to an ongoing support group.

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