Disconnected youth survey results discussed
CHESTERTOWN — Representatives from the Department of Social Services and other agencies gathered to discuss how to best help disconnected Kent County youth during a presentation July 12.
Held at the Kent County Health Department in Chestertown, the presentation was on the results of an “Opportunity Youth” survey conducted by Chesapeake Charities of Stevensville.
“In Kent County, we have two areas we’re working on. ... One of them is our disconnected youth,” Family and Community Partnerships of Kent County Director Rosemary Ramsey-Granillo said. “We don’t have actual numbers on this, so we’re working with Chesapeake Charities to drill down and see what this phenomenon is.”
Chesapeake Charities Director Linda Kohler said the survey lasted six months and, with the help of local youth ambassadors, focused on those ages 16 to 24 who currently or previously “experienced disconnection from education or the labor market.”
It also looked at whether those surveyed lived with a parent or guardian and if they had a stable or permanent place to live.
“This is a really tough group to put your head around,” Kohler said. “They’ll say they’re working if they aren’t in school, but it isn’t true.”
She said there is an estimated 188 “opportunity youth” in Kent County, 77 of which — from different genders and ethnicities — participated in the survey.
Only one participant considered himself homeless, 22 percent said they were arrested at least once and less than 10 percent believed they had a substance abuse problem. Twenty-five percent reported that they earned more than $20,000 last year, but 47 percent said they spent two or more years at a single job.
“I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like to live on just $20,000 anywhere. Even in Kent County,” Chesapeake Charities Grants and Evaluation Specialist Mary Ann Gleason said.
A map, made with help from Washington College Geographic Information Systems Department, showed the highest poverty rate being for 18 to 34 year olds — 20.7 percent of county residents — and a “large disparity” in median earnings between males and females.
Another disparity was found in the poverty rates between minorities and the overall population in Kent County.
“The data pieces themselves won’t give you a full picture of what’s underlying in this community,” Kohler told the audience. “But you all are key players in this. ... Your programs influence these kids.”
She said the “barriers” to employment for those surveyed were lack of education and job skills, problems finding transportation, difficultly finding child care and the presence of a criminal record.
A video put together by Kelley Callaghan of Soul Candy Media featured photographs of Chestertown and quotes from seven participants. The quotes were on subjects like the participants’ dreams, what makes them angry and the problems they face.
“This was a great project,” Callaghan said. “These kids had a profound effect on us.”
Participants in the video made statements that:
• “Businesses are low-key racist.”
• “This town is corrupt.”
• “Everything is shut down for us.”
• “Gentrification severely stunts us. ... It’s like nobody gives a damn.”
• “There’s nothing for young people anymore.”
A theme the video presented was that although the participants feel “hassled everywhere they go,” they indicated the Kent County Public Library’s Chestertown branch to be a safe space.
They also mentioned The Alley, a former gathering place for young people in down- town Chestertown. It was shut down due to a lack of funding.
“Help the people going up the hill, not the ones already over and going down it,” a quote from the video advised.
David Rice, a former Millington councilman, said that town’s skate park went under fire when it was first proposed. He said that while it is a popular place for Millington youths, it now sits in disarray.
“The mentality of those original homesteaders was terrible,” Rice said. “People in this town (Chestertown) and this county don’t want youths like this.”
He called the the Clarence Hawkins Community Center in Worton a “great facility,” but said it is underused and that there is limited transportation for those living in areas like Rock Hall or Millington.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” Kent County Behavioral Health Council Chairman Timothy Dove said. “If you give young people something productive to do, they’ll have a tendency to do that. If you don’t, bad things can happen.”
Kohler gave several recommendations from the survey’s results. They included establishing soft skill training to enhance “employability,” apprenticeship programs, provide GED and other training programs and advocate for the local “recovery community.”
“You have to build trust. They just don’t see a future,” Kohler said. “If you don’t give them that, then what are they working for?”
She said local employers such as Dixon Valve & Coupling Co. and David A. Bramble Inc. have expressed interest in becoming involved with helping disconnected youth.
Other recommendations were to create a safe space, possibly in downtown Chestertown, for young people to go, work with Kent County Public Schools to provide vocational programs and essentially “invest in youth.”
“These kids are amazing,” Callaghan said. “There’s a lot of human capital here.”
Glenn Wilson, president of Chesapeake Bank & Trust Co., said a “piece of real estate” would only solve a part of the issue. He said a solution is to get young people “engaged and mentored” about what possibilities for education and employment exist.
“It’s about being personable. We were told to reach out through social media, but they see it and they don’t care at all,” Kohler said. “We sat down with them and they opened up. ... They are begging for your time.
Ramsey-Granillo said the process to help disconnected youth “doesn’t stop here.” She said the local management board is “pursuing this track” and welcome partnerships with interested organizations to create helpful programs.
“We want to harness the energy these different agencies have and build that trust with these youth,” Ramsey-Granillo said. “It’s about building those relationships.”
Chesapeake Charities Executive Director Linda Kohler speaks about the results of an “Opportunity Youth” survey during a presentation July 12 at the Kent County Health Department. The survey polled those ages 16 to 24 years old who are “disconnected” from formal education or employment.