WILLMAR (AP) -- The homeless youths that come to The Back Door program here don't find a case worker or a prepackaged plan to get their lives back on track.
Instead, they set their own goals for their own lives. "They decide what they need to work on," said Melissa Peterson, coordinator of the training program for Goodwill/Easter Seals in Willmar.
The Back Door originated in the Canadian city of Calgary to help inner-city youths living on the street. Now, for the first time, the program is being tried in a rural town.
With the help of an anonymous four-month grant, it's being tried in the Willmar area, where it's known as the Willmar Experiment.
Initial funding runs out at the end of January, but Goodwill is looking for new funding sources to keep the program going, Peterson said.
"If it goes well, we'll expand. I think it would fit very well in the Cities," she said. "It's very different from anything else Goodwill does."
Traditional programs for homeless youths provide food and shelter, but don't necessarily help them escape the tough, survival-mode culture of street life.
With The Back Door, founder Carl DeLine took a different approach: helping homeless adolescents and young adults integrate into mainstream society.
It's not easy. Many homeless youths don't have a permanent address, a telephone number or proper identification, like a driver's license.
Many have pressing medical needs, or are fighting a drug addiction -- particularly to methamphetamines.
The Back Door's philosophy is to give these youths the chance to set goals, solve each immediate crisis and move them, step by step, away from street life.
The "contract," as it's called, covers issues such as housing, employment, education and finances.
Participants get $15 for signing a contract. They can earn more $15 bonuses every time they set another goal.
Canadian social service experts who have reviewed the program see it as a successful model for helping at-risk youths take responsibility for their lives.
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