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Founded just over a year ago, Youth Collaborative Inc. (YCI) has been actively tackling the problems of at-risk youth in Forsyth County. Their Project X initiative is giving teenagers a way out of the street life and into the world of being productive young adults.

Project X is an integrative program providing services to youth ages 13-18 who are at high risk of gang involvement. After conducting an assessment, youth will receive services to improve problem behaviors through coaching from their outreach coordinator. Participants will also work toward education and employment goals, as well as participating in pro social activities. Services provided will target individual needs using the Comprehensive Gang Model.

YCI was founded by Terra Lataille, Kayla Steele, and Lloyd Leonard Jr. The three of them aim to change the path for some of the at-risk youth in the city. Previously the three co-founders worked for a non-profit, but they wanted to start their own organization to go more in depth with the youth in the work they do.

“We definitely want to try and reduce the gun violence for sure, but also provide resources for the youth within Forsyth County,” said Leonard. “We offer a GED program for the kids. I would say a little bit over half of our kids have already dropped out of school and the other half are still in school, but definitely struggling. We offer the GED program through Forsyth Tech, which we are partners with.

“We also offer tutoring for our youth. We also offer job placement to assist them in getting employment, which gives them another opportunity to get off the block and stop the gang banging and earn legal money. We also have interpersonal skills classes.”

According to Leonard, the interpersonal classes include healthy communication, being able to recognize toxic and unhealthy communication.

“What makes our program stand out amongst all of the rest in Forsyth County is that we utilize an evidence-based curriculum in our interpersonal classes,” he stated. 

It is not easy to connect with at-risk youth, but Leonard says YCI likes to “meet them where they are” and show them a better way to live.

“We are not trying to actually convince them to get out of gangs, because that’s the last thing they want to hear,” he said. “They are going to continue to be in gangs if you try to convince them to get out of gangs. What we do is we approach them from a different direction.

“We actually give them the resources and provide the resources, because what we realize is, they feel like there is no hope when they are joining gangs. When they join gangs, they are looking for love that they possibly may not be getting. They are looking for structure, which they are not getting. They are looking for consistency, which they are not getting. By joining gangs, they feel like they can get those things from joining them. It’s the wrong mindset, because they are not getting that at all. What they are getting is a lot of manipulation and fake love.”

Currently, YCI has a little over 30 kids in the program. They hold their interpersonal skills classes Monday through Wednesday. The past year has seen some change in their kids, but they know there is much more work to do.

“They waver and it fluctuates from time to time,” Leonard says about the kids wanting to leave the gang life. “To be honest with you, we are getting consistent participation from the bulk of our kids to come to class.

“It was a battle to get them to actually come. They are court ordered to come to our program, so this is their last opportunity to keep those pending charges from becoming permanent charges on their juvenile record.”

YCI receives many of their referrals from the juvenile court system or the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System. Occasionally they will receive a request from a parent or court counselor about a child.

To attack the problems plaguing some of our youth in the city, Leonard and YCI are hoping for total buy-in from city officials, including the mayor and sheriff’s department. 

“We need a whole village,” he said. “We need all the community stakeholders to come on board so we can try and battle this thing, because this thing isn’t going away anytime soon. If anything, it’s going to continue to increase. Right now, they are recruiting heavy right now in gangs.”

Leonard says every child in their program is either African American or Hispanic and feels that is a major problem. He feels the family dynamics in many minority families are a major cause for a lot of young minority children turning to gangs. He knows there are Caucasian gangs, but those are not highlighted as much in mainstream media.

To be a part of the solution is one of the biggest joys for Leonard and YCI.

“Just to see them succeed and for them to recognize that there is hope,” said Leonard about what he likes to see from the kids in the program. “To get their diploma or GED, or get a job, or even to realize that they don’t have to join a gang.

“We notice that a lot of this stuff is modeled. Some of them are born into this lifestyle. They have normalized the gang banging and the hustling, so they don’t really realize that it is abnormal. For them to succeed and to realize that there is another way is gratifying for all three of us. It may not be a change overnight, but it’s a change in the right direction.”

YCI is always looking for donations and Leonard wanted to reiterate that all donations are tax deductible as they are a 501C-3 non profit organization. For more information on Youth Collaborative Inc and Project X you can visit their website at www.youthcollaborative.org, or you can email the founders at Lloyd@nullyouthcollaborative.org, Terra@nullyouthcollaborative.org or Kayla@nullyouthcollaborative.org. 

The post Local organization helps to eradicate violence among young people appeared first on WS Chronicle.

This content was originally published here.

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