Dis­con­nected youth sur­vey re­sults dis­cussed

The Star Democrat - - BUSINESS - By DO­RIAN MITCHELL dmitchell@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.”

PHOTO BY DO­RIAN MITCHELL

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.

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