top of page

OneRouge Community Check-In - Week 60

Week #60

'At-Risk Youth Pathways & Services' Meeting Notes Prepared by Zoë Haddad (Walls Project)

Roxson Welch (Executive Director, FYSC)

  • Justice Center deals with all areas of domestic violence including counseling for children

  • If you talk to a kid and ask them who is it they don’t want to disappoint and find out who it is, you can work with that child - there’s somebody they’re looking up to

  • If there’s no one - you know there’s a serious problem

  • In Baton Rouge we have a large number of children impacted through violent crime

  • Project Impact is hands-on intensive assistance with families and children through social workers. They get referred by schools, law enforcement, neighbors, etc. If they are interested, the whole world wraps around them at that point. Provides critical one-on-one tutoring, community outreach officers do welfare checks, give the children and families whatever they need - beds, anything they need to stay stable.

Tekoah B. Boatner HS-BCP (Executive Director, Youth Oasis)

  • Been around since 1998, then known as the BR Alliance for Transitional Living now Youth Oasis

  • Joined in 2017 with the goal of focusing on our mission and impact on the city

  • As of now full spectrum youth services agency

  • Serve ages 16+, “transition aging” - aging through different phases, primarily exiting foster care or stepping down from secure care with the Office of Juvenile Justice

  • This year we expanded services to the 18-24 population to provide extra support

  • Majority of our population has had instability, trauma...need lots of time to build that village

  • Consistency breeds trust - lacking consistency leads to lack of trust

  • Most of our kids come through the school system, the best place for intervention

  • Our main priority is to give kids as many chances to fail and not be labeled as outcasts because of that failure - what happened before they came to us has no bearing on how we treat them. Our people here are very skilled in Trauma Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) and other positive youth development frameworks

  • Everyone else has decided who these kids are and we want the kids to decide who they are, to give them the time and help to do that

  • 18-24 services consist of emergency shelter, transitional housing, drop in center, rapid rehousing, parenting and trafficking in the fall

  • My biggest ask to the BR community is to look through the cracks - look for the kids who are not A students, not “Exceeding despite...” - that’s a well of potential, of citizens we’re ignoring. The kids we ignore sit like a dormant virus and pop up based on triggers - our goal is to diminish those triggers. Look for those kids and understand that all adult services are youth services. There’s a difference between offering services to kids underage and offering specifically tailored services to youth. You are dealing with a developing brain, which is a privileged position to be in and should be handled with care. Most of the ills we are working to address start with family dynamics and healthy relationships.

  • If the children are not okay, Baton Rouge is not okay.

Aishala Burgess (Executive Director, TRUCE)

  • Help people ages 14-24 that may be involved in groups or gangs in our city, may be on probation or parole, or may have dropped out of school and are interested in finding a way back to a successful life

  • We have two full time social workers who work directly with each client

  • Make sure they receive any referrals for mental health and substance abuse treatment, make sure there’s an educational plan, Uber them to and from any medical appointments to remove the transportation barrier, pay for anything the child may need (TWIC cards, books, drivers license, OSHA certifications, so on)

  • Serve not only the child but the entire family

  • Pre-COVID we were in neighborhoods plagued by violence every month - went directly to the community and asked how we could help instead of assuming what the residents may need, instead of waiting for them to come to us

  • “Beat the Heat” was our weekly summer program where we would break up hot spots of violence where they popped up

  • “Hoop Fest” closed out the summer, which will be back as soon as we can safely bring it back. Law enforcement served as referees and coaches for kids without coaches which was another opportunity letting kids see them in a different light

  • The non profit board members consist of government, business owners, faith based in the community

  • The community picked our name, our kids picked our colors (charcoal grey and lime green)

  • Our goal is to reach the kids who are violent kids, those likely to kill or be killed

  • Receive referrals from the court system, schools, neighborhoods, parents reaching out for intervention

  • Also go to the Department of Corrections to see who’s returning to Baton Rouge and what we can do to keep them from returning to prison

  • Goal is to keep our kids safe, free, and alive

  • We have call ins and we offer them services and a way out, we beg them to put down their guns

  • The kids hear from law enforcement, mothers that have lost their kids

  • Everything we offer is free - we just want them to leave that life alone

  • If we hear of any feuds we have Custom Notifications where we go to the home, school to prevent shootings - we plead with them to let law enforcement handle this for you

  • Try to go through as many shootings with law enforcement as we can to see if there’s a way we can intervene

  • Tara High was one of our schools where we did One Lunch Wednesday - a voluntary mentoring series with kids mostly on the verge of dropping out, in the criminal justice system - 7 of the 15 graduated. We provided speakers, asked them what their needs and interests were. For instance, took them to see the Saints play in Dallas a few years ago

  • They receive a lot of love and hope from us

  • The crime rate is high right now - we would love as we get ready to kick off the summer and fall for our community members to get involved. If you want to get involved with Custom Notifications, reach out. We are on pace to be on our worst year as it relates to homicide and non-fatal shootings. Our kids need us more than ever. This is a time for collaboration so we can save our kids. If you’re a business owner, open your doors and give these kids a second chance with gainful employment, the opportunity to do better.

Roxson Welch: Baton Rouge as a whole is amazing. When I ask for something for the kids and families, I get it. But what we have to understand is every single act and moment we have is a chance to change the day of a person. Kindness matters. People forget how to be kind to children. If I could change one thing it would be for people to treat children - and each other - with kindness. We all have struggles and kids have struggles we can’t even imagine. The struggles I had so many years ago, we didn’t have the same kinds of the problems are so much bigger than just smoking cigarettes. Every chance you get to create a relationship with a child just by being kind matters. Tekoah Boatner: I was going to talk about some of the other things we do as an agency because part of our way of working with kids is to focus on our staff. It’s my mission to make sure that everybody here is paid a living wage including my direct care workers. You’re asking people - many of our employees are former foster youth - to sit with someone in a vulnerable state and not have their own needs at the top of their mind. I want to echo what Roxson said and talk about the kids again, reminding everyone that over time as we become adults we forget a lot. We forget that fear, hurt, and anger all manifest as different behaviors. We learn to treat people based on their behavior and not our shared humanity. Our kids get the brunt of that. Keep that top of mind that what you’re seeing is hurt people, hurt children. We need to have more safe spaces so that we can wrap that hurt in security and comfort and community so they feel confident and trust that they can rejoin the community. If there is nothing in the community for them, there’s no reason to participate in it. Every interaction is an opportunity to change someone’s perspective of their environment.

Coalition Questions and Discussion

Casey Phillips (The Walls Project): A few questions from the chat...What are the ages of youth in TRUCE? How many do you serve? What is the staffing pattern like? What are the gaps in your service that other people can step in to offer?

Aishala Burgess: Our main focus is ages 14-24 but we’re learning a lot of our 13 year olds are doing the same things our high school students are involved in. We don’t turn anyone away. Our gaps - there are many. We have two social workers that work with each of our clients. I try to top their caseloads generally at 35 kids at one time. We would not be able to be effective if each social worker had more than that especially when dealing with the more high risk kids. There’s a major gap when it comes to the needs of our parents. Once you start removing layers of trauma in that family, the parents are experiencing a lot of the same things. We have parents with multiple children that we’re expecting to do multiple things, working hourly wages and can’t keep up. We label them as disconnected but they are connected - they’re weighing taking care of their families. There’s not a lot of mental health services for our younger kids. I receive emails all the time asking about 8-10 year olds. We’re seeing violent crime in elementary schools. It’s becoming younger and younger and we need a lot of people to intervene. Another major gap is connection - any connection we can get to provide our felons with gainful employment that will sustain a family, offer them health benefits. Another thing, when I was going to school I didn't have to pass a dead body. I’m on homicide scenes and I see kids going to school, getting on the bus and passing a dead body. I see high school students staying home to take care of their younger siblings, gaining a truant record. We keep adding layers and barriers when we should be finding ways to collectively remove those. Some parental services we can send our moms, dads, and parents to after work hours...a lot of the sessions to successfully complete work hours are during work hours. If there’s someone offering parental classes or support that’s flexible with hours please send me a message.

Casey Phillips: School buildings should be open from 6 AM to 9 PM, 12 midnight. There should be after school programs, parent classes...our schools should become community centers again. We’ve got to push to change the rules around the use of these taxpayer built schools into community hubs. The mental health and trauma side...Reverend Anderson mentioned our city is living in a perpetual state of trauma. On the last Friday of this month we’ll be discussing intergenerational health services. I’m going to flip it over to Dean Andrews from the College of Business at Southern asked what kind of data you’re keeping and is it available to analyze?

Aishala Burgess: Yes please! That could help with grant opportunities in the future. We are in the process of revamping our database thanks to a great donor allowing us to upgrade and to make it easier to share and extract data but we would love any type of partnership we can get to expand and to grow.

Casey Phillips: Pam, did you maybe want to talk about what you put into the chat? A lot of people resonated with it and it leads into Esperanza’s question...How can we scale these programs to Ascension, WBR? Pam?

Pam Wall: I would just comment from my years working with youth job training programs - JAG is a great program and we don’t have enough JAG programs. I’ve said this before...One of the nation’s biggest problems is that most programs are too brief, too shallow, and we don’t connect with other groups that have different programs that apply to the people we’re trying to help. It’s indicative of the way we fund things. We fund things for a year, maybe two, and you can’t serve the same family for three years of a grant program because you don’t have outcomes to send to the funder. I did read though about a youth program for kids 16+ and discovered that most of the parents were not employed so they took the parents in and offered them the opportunity to participate just like the youth. We fund adult employment training and youth employment training but I don’t know of any that fund them together. So they do intensive training, do a job search, and employ folks. In most cases the relationship between the parent and the youth - most of these were males - improved and allowed them to reinforce what they were learning with each other. Most people here are involved in some way with preparing kids for the future. I’m trying to inspire people to do longer, intergenerational programs. I think funders - the city included - might do some innovation funding to try some of these things that are working in other places.

Reverend Anderson (PREACH): Programs like 4-H, Girl Scouts, all these programs who are youth development programs have huge track records. But, we tend to focus on urban areas when there are very strong issues in the rural parts of our parish. Look at the drug issues - in Zachary and Cheneyville and some of those other areas - they are hiding in plain sight. Those youth also get forgotten. One of my issues is we have schools in every community. We have a vibrant parks and recreation facility. Yet it always feels like we are pushing resources in law enforcement, who are the people least competent to do youth development. Our children live in a trauma induced world. You’re not going to find anyone in Louisiana who is not full of trauma. We’re also not talking about the elephant in the room - I was shocked by the racial breakdown in our juvenile justice system. I love Youth Oasis. But they work with two of the highest risk youths. And one of them is the folks the state is supposed to take care of, which is children aging out of foster care. That speaks volumes to the problem that the children the state is supposed to take responsibility for are more likely to end up in prison than anywhere else. The second group they do a great nurturing job with is our LGBTQ+ community. Again, very at risk children and a lot of our programming won’t address these children until they’re desperate. We have a lot of great partners on this call that do a lot of great work. If we start thinking about taking the ingredients of our gumbo and putting the ingredients where the pot is...and I call the pot the schools. The BREC centers. The community centers that exist in all 12 of the Metro Councils. That’s where I am, that we force the conversation about how we have all these different school districts - but are they all partnered in pre-criminal youth justice development? The same thing with CATS and these other do we get kids where good positive things are happening, and how do we respect the role and the proprietary relationship parents should have?

Rinaldi Jacobs, Sr (Scotlandville CDC): We all agree that education is the passport out of poverty in part. My question...there are a large number of programs that do not require people to go into a whole lot of debt and can have a high school education and still earn middle class wages. For example, truck driving, medical coding, cybersecurity...These are not positions that require you to have even a two year degree. Why isn’t there a focus with our Istrouma graduates, Capitol High, these other schools, directing these kids into these programs that could create middle class wages? Most of them start off at $35-40k a year with only less than say 8-10 weeks of education. To me that seems like a no brainer.

Casey Phillips: I’d like to lift up two points, and I don’t want to speak for any other organization on this call, but as The Walls, the biggest mistake we ever made was with the Futures Fund just being in-school youth for the first six years. The moment we changed to intergenerational and used that word it opened up so much opportunity for so many more people. Second, as intergenerational training, we’re trying to figure this out with EmployBR, BRCC, trying to get through all this’s hard to get people approved because of the way the federal guidelines are’s a cumbersome process. We’re trying to get it so that everyone enrolled in our program goes through EmployBR, gets access to everyone else’s training and gets automatically enrolled in BRCC. They’re automatically able to access these blue collar jobs.

Tekoah Boatner: The minute a kid enters any one of these systems there are barriers to accessing all of these pipelines. When we have a kid who wants to get certified as a welder or go through apprenticeship, because they may have come out of OJJ we can’t get a sponsor because they either don’t know someone or the sponsor isn’t willing to sponsor a kid who just got out. There’s training programs within the schools they go to, however, if they don’t have a certain GPA they can’t participate in these job skill courses. They make it 2.5, but if you are below grade level, this path is closed to you. When all of these pathways are closed it becomes much, much harder. You can’t say that your program is for everyone when any blemish knocks them out. When they get into these systems every single mistake they make gets added on as a blemish. And again, all these pathways are now closed. It’s similar to the thing of “Everyone has the same 24 hours.” I do not. Beyonce has way more hours than me because she has a whole group of people helping her get through life. The tropes we tell ourselves just aren’t the reality for these kids. Let’s take the blinders off and say this is what it is, now let's fix that. Let's stop pretending that our welfare system and our community support system is open to all because it is not.

Kendra Hendricks (CRPC): One of the things I have not heard is that underemployed or nontraditional students sometimes don’t have those options to get the high paying jobs. They’re working minimum wage jobs and they have responsibilities. They have homework, can’t go to training because they have childcare. They’re stuck in that cycle. Maybe we could close that loop to work with childcare, changing the hours for these trainings.

Tyra Banks (MetroMorphosis): I want to echo everything that was just said. There are social, emotional, and biological changes that happen to you when you grow up in high stress and poverty that make it difficult to be as resilient and gritty. One of my little cousins, we call him the most certified drug dealer we ever met because he went to school for everything, but because he got in trouble when he was younger, he had a very difficult time getting these jobs. Where can we become stronger advocates for ban the box, expungement, how can we stand up as a community, what can we be a part of to advocate for changes for example with the Department of Labor’s expectations? How can we advocate so our kids are not so stuck? Also, how do we get 4-H in schools? We all had 4-H at our schools when we were younger. My son doesn’t have 4-H, it wasn’t offered at any of the three schools he has attended.

Alfreda Tillman Bester (Dept. of Children and Family Services): Thank you to everyone who presented. It’s been good information we can use in all the different organizations represented here. One of the things we’re doing at SU Law Center Vulnerable Communities and Peoples Initiative...our focus is on listening to the people who present to us, like with all of you...we have an idea of what is needed but for every person that comes it’s something different. I found myself talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of’s very hard to talk to someone about getting additional training when they are housing insecure and their children are hungry. We want to look at opportunities to give people on the job training and focus there - if they have some income while they’re receiving education and training, they’re more likely to stay in the job and the training. Asking them to choose between their immediate needs - making sure children are housed and fed and that their basic needs are met - they’re going to choose the immediate need. We have to be more deliberate and thoughtful about the way we fund things. It can’t just be “Let’s do a program”. We have to listen to the people who are to be served. It has to be intergenerational. If I’m sending a child back to a volatile situation...we have to deal with the parents. Because if the parent is stressed, the child is stressed.

Sarah Barlow (BRCC): We’ve got a couple things at several of our sites. Listening to the amazing work that’s happening, I’m thinking of opportunities for the people you’re serving to obtain training with us, whether through the credit side or through the workforce solution side, which is the essentials...Students that have come to us seeking adult basic ed or through our JAG program can concurrently enroll in a workforce training in four areas: transportation, IT, healthcare, and skilled crafts. With the money provided under Reboot, they can engage at little to no cost to earn credentials while working on literacy and numeracy and complete their progression toward the high set test. We’re very fixated on barriers. We also have programs that train individuals to get TWIC cards to get into plants. We partnered with Southern Law to help those students. There’s a lot of opportunities that we need to think about barriers in different ways. I heard people say that there’s GPA requirements. Through our Early College Academy MOU we’re removing that GPA barrier. We’re pushing hard with the Board of Regents. I’m happy to talk more about that. We’ve executed 11 Early College Academy agreements with parishes around us. Esperanza Zenon (RPCC): I’m always impressed by the numbers of folks and agencies and opportunities I learn about in this call. I would love to have some of those opportunities in Donaldsonville, but that’s another conversation. I want to say that all the training programs are beautiful but the key thing I see missing are the employers. At the end of the day if employers aren’t open and available all you did was frustrate people more because they did what they needed to do but still can't get a job. I see a lot of folk with degrees and training that can’t get through the door because they don’t know somebody. Especially in these plants and refineries. I’m always amazed at how many community organizations serve our youth but I always say employers need to be at the table because they can change someone's life just by being open to hiring them. Casey Phillips: We’re working with some partners in Dallas around some legislation around corporate tax rebates around hiring underemployed populations to incentivize. We have got to figure out a way to incentivize businesses to hire folks who are underemployed in our community.

Gwen Hamilton (NSBR): I want to say thank you. You’re doing wonderful, very difficult work. I hope the result of today’s meeting is some opportunities to collaborate with others on the call who may be doing similar work, have similar needs, or offer similar services. One, no one has talked about CTEC, a high school training program, they’re under-enrolled. There’s also an automotive training program on the Department of Labor’s most wanted job list. I brought those out because I want to share with you where I am haunts me because two years ago Chief Paul said, “We have got to stop growing criminals.” It takes us back to what is systemic? What is the commonality? The commonality is reading and literacy. We have got to make sure that our youngest, early childhood, are wrapped in the services they need and that they learn to read by third grade and beyond so that the wonderful programs you have don’t become bigger over time. You guys are struggling to deal with it on the back end. It starts at a young age. There’s data that show that when people, particularly African American men, can’t read by third or fourth grade, they know it, they’re embarrassed and they find other options to keep them happy.

Zoe Haddad (The Walls Project): I was curious about medication access - anything from ADHD medication to insulin. Lindi also put into the chat, what are the services as far as people who have physical disabilities, developmental delays, etc. That sometimes gets left out of the conversation and that can be life or death for some people. I’m curious what services, if any, are out there.

Tekoah Boatner: Most of the kids in our target population have Medicaid, so they can get their medication. We are writing a program to do medical case management with kids because as with all things adults are often seeking to do things to kids not with hand a kid a mental health diagnosis and then you give them psychotropics and say, “Here, take it.” And there’s nothing else that follows about what it’s doing to their brain and their bodies. Large scale, if they are diagnosed with anything, look to organizations in the area for programs for kids who don’t have Medicaid. Most pharmacies have an internal program, St. Vincent De Paul has a pharmaceutical program. When we have extra prescriptions we take it to them and they disperse them. If you come across a kid without insurance, there is no reason. Louisiana doesn’t get a lot right, but they got that right. There’s no reason for the kids not to be insured. Kids can get access to medication but keeping them on the medication is the next step.

Aishala Burgess: I see there’s a question about Medicaid when they enter the juvenile justice system...their Medicaid will follow them. Most facilities should have a physician, nurse…there’s nurses around the juvenile detention center all the time. Next, Casey, I did have a question. I’m always looking for help - if there’s anyone with resources to help youth when their TWIC card is denied...there is an appellate process, but it’s a lot of cumbersome paperwork. A lot of people have no idea that that denial is something they can appeal.

Alfreda Tillman Bester: I am a member of the Reentry Coalition with the Department of Corrections and one of the things that’s happening is a real discussion about whether TWIC should be require