CYS keeps hope alive for troubled youth

The OlympianDecember 26, 2013 

The new year promises to be a busy one for the private, non-profit agency known as Community Youth Services.

Founded in 1970 to deliver client-centered services and programs to at-risk youth and families in the South Sound area, CYS has seen the need for its continuum of individualized services — everything from shelter and job training to therapy and foster care — do nothing but grow with the passing years.

In a perfect world, the need for Community Youth Services 20 program would diminish over time, supplanted by a caring, healthy community where everybody achieves their full potential for personal growth. Sadly, the social and personal ills associated with homelessness, hunger, unemployment, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse show no signs of easing. Last year, CYS worked with some 3,500 youths and families, providing a huge safety net to the community’s most vulnerable population.

South Sound relies on Community Youth Services for a vast array of social services that are growing in demand. The 102 employees and 80 volunteers, capably led by 34-year CYS Executive Director Charles Shelan, know there is much work to do, and they are stepping up to the challenges as best they can.

Last year, CYS launched a young adult shelter pilot program in response to an increasing threat of violence and predatory behavior directed at homeless young adults, many of them transitioning out of foster care with no jobs and no place to live.

The 10-bed young-adult shelter for ages 18-24 shares space with Rosie’s Place, a drop-in daytime center where homeless, runaway and troubled youth — upward of 45 kids a day — go to feel safe, receive a nourishing meal, find clean clothes and hygiene supplies. It’s an alternative to the mean streets where they are otherwise left to mingle with a transient adult population and all the dangers associated with chronic homelessness. Rosie’s Place is a gateway to social and health services offered by CYS and other community resources.

Both the young-adult shelter and Rosie’s Place have proved to be popular programs, so popular that they have outgrown their space in the CYS headquarters at 711 State Avenue NE in Olympia.

Help is on the way. CYS purchased an office building at 520 Pear St. in Olympia. It’s being remodeled to house Rosie’s Place, the young-adult shelter and another CYS offering called Gravity High School, a program that helps youth complete their GED and find employment.

The new center, named the Brighter Futures Youth Center should be ready for occupancy in January. It will feature five bathrooms, two showers — something lacking at the current CYS office — a kitchen, a music room and a commercial washer-dryer.

Unfortunately, the young-adult shelter only has enough funding — $100,000 from the Thurston County HOME Consortium — to operate from October to May. It asked for $180,000 in the last consortium grant award cycle but came up short.

Granted, there are many worthwhile shelter and housing projects vying for a limited pot of money. But if the young-adult shelter project can build on its successful occupancy rate of 70 percent to 100 percent of full capacity each night, it should be able to make a compelling case for full funding next year.

For more information about CYS and its programs, visit communityyouthservices.org.

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