United Way unveils new initiative

During his years overseeing Benton Franklin Juvenile Court, Judge Dennis Yule noticed a common thread in the cases coming before him -- young people who were disconnected from school, family and community.

"They hadn't been given resources to make good choices, and hadn't been taught to avoid making bad choices," said Yule, now retired. "They ended up in the criminal justice system."

A new initiative unveiled Thursday by leaders of the Community Solutions plan aims to reverse that trend and get people between the ages of 10 and 20 connected to positive, stabilizing influences that can keep them out of the justice system.

"Prepared by 20" is the second initiative to come from those involved in Community Solutions -- a regional health and human services plan intended to address the Tri-Cities' most pressing needs.

The communitywide effort began in 2006 with four program priorities -- education, health, safety and self-sufficiency.

The first specific initiative, "Our Babies Can't Wait," was launched in January 2009 and designed to prepare newborns for success by the time they are 20 through prenatal education for mothers. The initiative also focuses on nurturing environments and promoting learning opportunities and access to health care.

Beverly Weber, president and CEO of United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties, said after the first initiative was launched and the Community Solutions group began discussing a second, participants heard there was a need to do something for the age group targeted by Prepared by 20.

The initiative doesn't create any new programs or services, but works to connect children, teens and young adults to existing services that can help them thrive. Those could be social services, after-school programs or a mentor who can help guide a young person through turbulent adolescent years, Weber said.

"It is intended to try to get as many positive things into kids' lives as is possible," she said.

Yule said he was surprised to hear at the launch breakfast Thursday just how many resources exist in the Tri-City community.

He also was enthusiastic about how making connections and providing positive influences can keep young people out of the criminal justice system. "There's no question in my mind," he said.

He added that this age group especially is important to reach because they are the next generation of community leaders.

"They are the future of our community," he said. "It is important for every one of our kids to have the opportunity to succeed and have fruitful lives."

Go to preparedby20.org or communitysolutions-bfco.com for more information.