YouthZone: 40 Years of Serving Youth 2

Young Offenders Make Amends Through Restorative Justice Program

Parents try their hardest to maintain stable, loving, nurturing homes, to be positive role models and to be active in a child’s life. They take on the responsibility of ensuring that the child will grow up to make healthy life decisions through open communication and mutual respect.

It doesn’t always go that way.

Because kids can make bad choices, parents need to be there for them. And sometimes, parents aren’t enough. At times, it takes a village—and that’s what YouthZone has been for towns up and down the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valleys for the past 40 years.

Nearly 65 percent of YouthZone’s young clients, ages 10-17, are referred through the court system; others find YouthZone via schools and parents. YouthZone’s Restorative Justice program directs youth to face and apologize to their victims. During that process, YouthZone serves as an unbiased third party: It helps to hold the young person directly accountable for his or her actions and most importantly, for harm done to the victim, family members and community. The restorative justice process considers the needs of victims, community and offenders. It explores needs related to the cause of the offense, and then works to address underlying causes.

Few clients who go through any YouthZone program repeat an offense, and restorative justice has the greatest success. Programs are formally and independently evaluated every three years. In 2011, the evaluation found that of 916 youth who were followed over three years, 10.7 percent failed to complete their service program before re-offending. That demonstrated a success rate of 89.3 percent!

In YouthZone evaluations, youth clients say things like:

  • “I stopped drinking. It’s not a part of my life anymore, and I will stay and keep myself out of trouble.”
  • “[It] made me realize what I am doing with my life. I need to turn it around.”
  • “I have more respect for myself and more confidence in schooling and home life.”
  • “My life got better.”

YouthZone was founded in 1976 by Bob and Charlene Collette along with Charlene’s sister, Marilyn McKee Hall. Originally named “Let’s Work It Out,” it was primarily concerned with drug use among young people. In 1978, it became Garfield Youth Services and then, in 2000, it took on the name locals now know—YouthZone.

YouthZone currently sees approximately 860 youth clients and 1,321 families a year. It now offers not only parent education and support, but it also responds to current community needs. Substance abuse has always been a focus, and YouthZone offers both substance-abuse intervention and prevention programs.

Of all the young clients referred to YouthZone, “35 percent of them have high substance abuse issues,” said Executive Director Lori Mueller.

Other YouthZone services include juvenile justice programs, youth assessment, parent support, individual and family counseling and the PALS mentoring program. YouthZone supports parents and families located from Aspen to Parachute by helping them to develop the tools needed for raising empowered and confident youth. That calls not only for working with young people in the criminal justice system, but also preventing them from getting into that system in the first place.

In 2014, YouthZone partnered with Roaring Fork Leadership (RFL), a nonprofit that develops leaders throughout the valley, on a public awareness campaign. RFL participants work on a civic project as part of their leadership training. The goal of this one was to educate communities from Aspen to Parachute about the implications of marijuana use among teens and about the resources available to families who are struggling with teens using it.

The YouthZone/RFL team created a multi-community event that featured a discussion with parents, youth, law enforcement and medical and industry professionals. It took place at Carbondale Middle School, and with the help of True Media Foundation, it was live-streamed to Rifle and Glenwood Springs high schools. “The point of RFL civic projects is for RFL participants to apply their leadership skills to a real community opportunity or need,” said RFL Executive Director Andrea Palm-Porter. “Working with YouthZone was impactful for the RFL participants and for the community. A win-win!”

The last word on the power of YouthZone comes from its young clients. As one of YouthZone’s restorative justice clients put it, “I’ve learned from my actions and I see how I’ve hurt others. And I’m trying to fix what I’ve done and not let it define me.”