Road construction and detours in downtown Brainerd will keep cars off Eighth Street for at least a few more weeks, but that doesn't mean something isn't stirring amid the rubble and reconstruction.
Over the weekend, Youth Wellness Initiative's youth center, The Shop, opened its doors at 215 Eighth St. for a test run at what supporters hope will be an important fixture for teenagers in the Brainerd lakes area.
Annie Mountcastle (top left) was joined by Youth Wellness Initiative youth board members Kayla Girdy (bottom right), Gail Parker and Divena Pindegayosh at The Shop's debut last Saturday. Mountcastle has served with YWI since August 2009.
Brainerd Dispatch/Sarah Nelson
The youth book and media store is just the first of several projects coming for YWI- a collaborative effort of more than 40 local organizations focused on "promoting the whole wellness of young people in Crow Wing County."
The Youth Wellness Initiative was launched in August by Roger Lynn, executive director of the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project. Lynn modeled the initiative after a similar collaboration in Minneapolis/ St. Paul called Blueprint for Action: Preventing Youth Violence in Minneapolis.
Since its 2006 inception, the Minneapolis-based program has experienced marked progress with a drop in intentional property damage and violent crime among youths. YWI hopes to see similar impact in Crow Wing County.
Peer Health Education Project Meets
3:30 p.m. June 17 in Suite 22,
322 Laurel St. in Brainerd
Paint Party at The Shop
4-9 p.m. June 29
Join the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project's Youth Advisory Board for pizza and mural painting.
For more information on Youth Wellness Initiative call (218) 855-8241.
"Our rule is not to become a large organization, but rather a bare bones organization that works to build funding and support for other local youth-serving agencies," Lynn said.
The initiative will eventually establish a community center in the Brainerd/Baxter area as the starting point for a coalition of community centers throughout the county. The Shop is the initial effort. "We are starting small," said Lynn. "And we intend to grow from there." The Shop will eventually become its own nonprofit entity.
In addition to The Shop, YWI is working to create a supportive community for Crow Wing County youths through media, health education, conflict resolution and behavior intervention projects.
As part of the Peer Health Education Project, efforts are being made to re-establish Wise Guyz/Wise Girlz- a program geared to educate teens on responsible sexual behavior.
The Lakes Area Restorative Justice Program, one of YWI's steering organizations, is working with YWI to develop a RESPECT campaign aimed to counteract bullying among youth as well as PALS (Peaceful Alternatives and Living Skills) - a program to help youths develop healthy conflict resolution skills.
Annie Mountcastle, an AmeriCorps VISTA who has served with YWI through the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, described the "restorative justice" component of the initiative that deals with youth criminal conflict. Where punitive justice calls for consequences for wrongdoing, restorative justice requires that offenders "take responsibility to fix their wrongs," Mountcastle said.
The program seeks to change the climate of youth violence by connecting offenders with their victims so they understand the impact of their crimes.
While YWI is supported in partnership by the Department of Health and Human Services and Crow Wing County Social Services, the effort is not county funded. "With the economic downturn, we have seen an increasing need for youth services in Crow Wing County," Lynn said. "At the same time we are seeing a decrease in funding."
YWI is funded in part by grant money from the Initiative Foundation, support from AmeriCorps as well as through donations. YWI is seeking additional grant funding.
Partnering organizations and agencies, such as Central Lakes College, which provides office space and meeting rooms, are working to provide in-kind donations. Other partners include Lutheran Social Services, the University of Minnesota Extension Service, Timber Bay Ministries, Kinship Partners along with several area churches, schools and other agencies.
Ultimately, YWI seeks to educate and empower youths to be an influential part of society. Mountcastle said the basic goal of YWI is to provide community for youths by youths. "We want it to be youth-driven," Mountcastle said. "We want youth to feel like their voices are being heard."
SARAH NELSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.
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