By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Youth and Family Services of North Central Oklahoma recently received a $10,000 grant from AT&T to provide vocational rehabilitation services to at-risk teens in the community.
Youth and Family Services provides assistance to more than 1,500 children and families each year through a variety of programs, including an emergency youth shelter, food pantries, school-based and outpatient counseling services, and adolescent drug and alcohol recovery programs.
Youth and Family Services Executive Director Dan Buckley thanked AT&T for investing in some of the community’s most vulnerable teens.
“We truly appreciate AT&T’s interest in helping our area youth,” he said. “To an adolescent who is working on selecting a career, schoolwork and staying out of trouble are a lot more important than the adolescent who isn’t thinking about the future.”
Shelby Hall, director of development for Youth and Family Services, said the AT&T grant and some matching funds will be used to purchase computers and career development software, and to open a vocational rehabilitation center at the Youth and Family Services shelter.
Hall said counselors already on staff will be able to use the computers and software to assess teens’ career possibilities and get them started on a positive track.
“Many of these kids have not experienced goal-setting at all in their lives,” Hall said. “A lot of them haven’t participated successfully in academic settings, and may not recognize the importance of academics. We want to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses, and then help them match their strengths with career opportunities.”
During the three- to four-week vocational rehabilitation program, teens will undergo a personality inventory, strengths assessment, career assessment, and several short- and long-term goal-setting activities.
“The more we’re able to give kids achievable, long- and short-term goals, the more success they will have in academic settings, the more they will stay out of legal trouble and they will possibly begin to associate with more positive peer groups,” Hall said.
Teens in the program will be taught job-search skills, resume-building techniques, time management and how to set a budget.
Hall said Youth and Family Services will be providing assessment and basic training, but will not be duplicating career development services already available in the community. The hope is to refer the teens after assessment to programs at Autry Technology Center, Lincoln Alternative School and Community Development Support Association.
“We just want to use this program to open up their eyes to what their future could look like, and what resources are available to help them get there,” Hall said.
The vocational rehabilitation program is expected to serve more than 250 adolescents each year, including more than 100 teens referred to Youth and Family Services through court proceedings.
Youth and Family Services outpatient counselor Melissa Baldwin said helping at-risk teens find a path to career success is essential in helping them overcome poverty and past trouble with the law.
“These kids struggle with seeing positive futures for themselves because of the trouble they’re in at the moment,” Baldwin said. “Going in there and showing them their strengths, and just giving them an idea of what a future could look like other than what they’re in right now, gives them hope.”
Tasha Jantzen, who also serves as an outpatient counselor, said vocational rehabilitation is particularly important for youths struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as they work toward establishing a place for themselves in society as adults.
“If they can’t find a job, they can’t find a place to live, they can’t pay rent, and they end up turning back to substance abuse to cope with those issues,” Jantzen said. “It’s a vicious cycle, and finding stable employment is very much a part of the recovery process.”
Pam Bookout, another outpatient counselor at Youth and Family Services, said the vocational rehabilitation will “empower adolescents in the community to learn and practice independent living skills.”
“In turn, these adolescents will be better equipped to cope and function successfully in daily living,” she said.
Taylor Randolph, clinical director at Youth and Family Services, said the vocational rehabilitation program will help at-risk teens “find their niche” and become productive members of society.
“Youth and Family Services highly values the process of self-discovery and matching interests with skills and passions,” Randolph said. “Finding a person’s niche in life is often a process rather than a set destination. Providing young people with a list of options can help stimulate ideas and choices that were not previously known.
“Matching personal internal qualities with education, training and career options produces healthy individuals who will continually contribute to society throughout their lives, thereby reducing recidivism delinquency and substance abuse.”
Youth and Family Services plans to have the vocational rehabilitation program operational by mid-December.