Life can be turbulent at times for anyone, but at-risk youth can face even greater challenges. That’s where Youthworks steps in. This year’s ChamberChoice Small Not-for-Profit winner supports youth and their families, helping them meet goals and establish strong, healthy relationships through a range of programs. Above all, they offer a safe place for kids and families.
On average, approximately 170 youth experience homelessness each night in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The goal at Youthworks is to reduce that number by helping those who need it most.
Founded in 1991, Youthworks offers professional social work, family counseling and mentoring to youth who are diverted from juvenile court, suspended from school, are homeless, victims of sex trafficking or are in need of food and shelter. And, they are the only local agency that offers a short-term care and assessment center for children aged 11 to 17.
They have two locations in North Dakota (Fargo and Bismarck), but serve people across the whole state and even into Minnesota. In the last two years, Youthworks has expanded programming and staff in the area of human and sex trafficking prevention, education, intervention and advocacy. So far, they have been able to help over 30 victims of human trafficking, and are looking to expand their experience in labor trafficking.
“All these programs are responses to what our community or state needed,” Jessica Fleck, program manager, said. “We really wanted to step in and fill those gaps.”
Youthworks operates a statewide guardian ad litem program, advocating for 1,000 children in deprivation cases before the Juvenile Court.
They’ve expanded their Transitional Living and Pathways to Parenting programs, and recently purchased the home next door to their main campus to allow for more space for homeless programming. They also do street outreach and have a 24-hour crisis line.
Youthworks’ success and growth can be attributed to an overarching approach to positive youth development. And it’s working, as surveys of youth and families consistently show they feel respected and safe at the agency. “We’re driven by treating any and all with respect and humanity,” Joan Neilan, development director, said. “These are not easy situations, and we believe that youth should have a voice.”
Part of how they give these individuals a voice is by hosting a youth advisory board for their clients to have input on their programming. They also involve youth and clients in street outreach and integrate them into the community.
It’s important for Youthworks to give back, and they make a point to offer volunteer opportunities to both its staff and clients.
They’re a part of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons, and contract with the schools, juvenile courts, Social Services and Sheriff’s department.
One message Youthworks wanted to share in this article was to remind that youth homelessness is a thing, but it doesn’t mean homeless kids are bad kids. It can affect anyone, and that is why an agency with such a welcoming atmosphere and open-door policy means so much.
With its strong leadership and dedicated board and staff, Youthworks no doubt will continue to serve a vital role in our community into the future.
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