Gurney's Inn
May 24, 2006

Russell Unveils Plans For Youth Bureau

Reports of disenfranchised youth have run rampant in the news in recent months. In Southold earlier this year, a disgruntled student trashed the high school, smashing computers and breaking glass, causing classes to be cancelled while cleanup ensued. In Greenport, a rash of vandalism has sparked recent arrests of minors involved in illegal activity (see page 11). And on the South Fork, students involved in a beach party gone wild have ignited a media frenzy as parents, educators, and law enforcement officials alike seek answers.

In Southold, Town Supervisor Scott Russell is galvanizing, preparing to tackle the problem of teens on the edge by taking a proactive approach.

"Just because we are a town of prosperity, doesn't mean we don't have problems," said Russell.

Yesterday, at the Southold Town Board work session, Russell was expected to unveil his plans for a new Southold town youth bureau that would aim to define the needs of today's youth and act as a conduit so that grant funding might be acquired and adequate help provided for kids in peril.

Russell is seeking to establish a Southold town youth bureau, and planned to distribute information to the board about how to go about the process.

First, said Russell, the town board needs to adopt legislation supporting the creation of a youth bureau, a department within the town's human services department to serve the needs of young people under the age of 21.

In order to fund the initiative, the town would submit applications to the County of Suffolk Youth Bureau and to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services; the town would then be required to provide a match for funding.

A youth bureau, said Russell, must establish an advisory board consisting of members of local government, youth service providers, clergy, the general public, and at least two young people.

In addition, a major task of the youth bureau is the development of a comprehensive needs assessment to document what local youth and their families perceive as necessary to foster youth competency and growth.

Russell said that he has been working with Special Projects Coordinator Phillip Beltz, Town Director of Human Services Karen McLaughlin, as well as Jim McMahon, director of public works, and Ken Reeves, of the recreation department, as a "de facto youth committee."

The group is working to create the necessary infrastructure in order to establish a town youth bureau. In addition, they have designed a youth development survey, which they plan to send out to area residents in the near future.

The youth development survey asks parents and kids to circle topics in order of importance that they would like to see addressed by the town with regard to the improvement of youth development.

The topics include recreational activities, cultural activities, employment opportunities, community volunteer services, safe places to hang out, such as a drop-in center, juvenile delinquency and drop-out prevention, health issues, such as pregnancy, smoking, and drugs and alcohol prevention, gang activities, mentoring programs, mental health services, and transportation.

Projected outcomes of the program, said Russell, would include the fostering of collaboration of existing services through the convening of regular meetings, the creation of a youth bureau directory of local services, and identifying the resources and funding that could fulfill the needs expressed by the assessment.

Russell used the example of the Southampton Town youth bureau, established in 2001 with just an executive director. Today, said the supervisor, the bulk of current funding — $463,000 of $500,000 — is provided by the town. Currently, there are three full-time staff members, four part-time staff members who work 20 hours a week, and 25 part-time staff who work less than 20 hours.

The youth bureau, said Russell, functions administratively and subcontracts for direct services such as a drop-in center, mental health services, and employment and recreational programs.

The first step, said Russell, is the preliminary needs assessment, which must be developed and submitted with applications for consideration of funding. The application should state demographic information, description of problems in the town, utilizing the Suffolk County of Youth Need, and relevant school data. In addition, said Russell, the preliminary assessment should document existing youth resources. While the town is not in a position to serve as an expert in regard to issues such as drugs, alcohol, and vandalism, Russell said the best move is to position the town as a conduit for other agencies who can help kids in need.

The youth initiative is just one way that the supervisor is reaching out to his constituency in order to "get things done." Russell has been hosting regular community meetings — most recently, last Saturday in Peconic — to address the concerns of residents, which range from code enforcement and the animal shelter to dredging issues.

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