Group Aims to Strengthen Bond of Youth-Centered Agencies

Youth Development Group organizer Scott Bradley talks about issues faced by youth-centered organizations.Some 30 representatives of community organizations for children and youth gathered Friday and quickly concluded that in order to effectively help the territory’s youth, they need to amp up their collaboration.

The town hall meeting, held at the Department of Education’s St. Thomas Curriculum Center, was hosted by the Youth Development Group.

“The purpose of gathering them together is to help unite and align each other and support each other, create a more effective way of dealing with our youth issues,” said organizer Scott Bradley.

The creation of the Youth Development Group was mandated by the Governor’s Children and Families Council, and began in 2013 under Bradley’s leadership. The group, composed of all private and public agencies that deal with children and youth, is tasked with advising the Children and Families Council on the welfare of residents aged nine to 24 years.

“It came as a direct need of focusing ourselves on our children,” Bradley said.

Bradley leads My Brother’s Workshop, a non-profit that provides mentoring, counseling and vocational training to at-risk and high-risk youth. A believer in the power of collaboration, Bradley has partnered with several Rotary clubs on St. Thomas and accepts aid from private donors to help the program thrive.

“Individually, we can only do so much, but together we can be so much stronger and get a lot more done,” he said.

During Friday’s meeting, attendees identified the main issues that prevent community groups servicing children and youth from performing effectively and from optimizing their resources.

“Duplication, coordination, communication,” summed up Rotarian and Practice Peace Initiative organizer LaVerne Ragster, and Bradley agreed.

Community organizations offering similar services, or duplicating, can find themselves vying for the same funding from the government or private donors, a reality that is not eased by altruism, especially when they are catering to different client bases with real needs.

“A lot of these organizations are very small, and they don’t have the resources that a government agency might have, but they could in fact benefit from collaboration and group effort,” said Bradley, who added that this could lead to a sharing of resources and coming to each other’s aid.

From left: Family Resource Center's Vivian St. Juste, DVSAC's Jeanette John-Baptiste, YWCA's Donnalie Cabey and VIPD's Dr. Naomi Bellot, exchange information on their youth services.Attendees marked the lack of coordination among the many community organizations in their individual areas. The overwhelming needs of the populations each group serves makes it easy for them to “lose sight of everyone else,” according to Bradley.

Representatives, therefore, resolved to keep each other abreast of programs and activities that other organizations can benefit from.

Derrick Venzen, community service specialist at the V.I. Housing Authority, led by example, sharing information about his community cleanup at Oswald Harris Court the very next day and getting volunteers from the assembled group. Other attendees followed suit.

To solve the communication problem, Sekoia Rogers, special assistant to the governor, gathered from the group all contact information and what services each offers, essentially serving as the communication hub and point person, alongside Bradley.

The Youth Development Group is also working on a website and a Facebook page in an effort to have a central online presence.

“Anytime you have a summer camp, anytime you have an event, send it to us so we can send it to everybody else,” said Bradley to the group.

Bradley’s hope is that Friday’s meeting is just the beginning.

“These people are basically in the fire everyday, and they’re fighting for our children,” said Bradley. “Making the effort of just joining each other on a monthly or weekly basis will strengthen that bond and make us more effective.”

More information on the Youth Development Group is available by calling 1-340-693-4316.

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