YouthCare’s Civic Justice Corps crew recently formed a new partnership with Community Arts Create, a local organization working to renovate their building on the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Orcas Street in Columbia City.  The CAC team was desperate for help: work was progressing at a glacial pace without a dedicated group of long-term, skilled volunteers. CJC was eager to help, and was glad to find a project that would give the young people a chance to learn a variety of skills over a long time period (each youth spends six months in the program).

This is just the type of community partnership all of YouthCare’s employment training programs look for. But for CJC, this partnership does more than teach job skills while helping out a fellow nonprofit; it helps fulfill the principles of restorative justice. YouthCare’s Civic Justice Corps provides employment training for youth exiting juvenile detention, helping them shift from thinking of themselves as offenders to stewards of the community. Current partners for the program include the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation.

Young people exiting juvenile detention face high rates of homelessness; in turn, homelessness makes them more likely to re-offend, starting a vicious cycle that is hard to break out of. This is exactly the predicament that many young people YouthCare works with find themselves in.  A recent study showed that 26% of youth released from detention were homeless at least once in the following year and that the odds of being arrested in the 12 months following release are almost twice as high for homeless youth than housed youth.  At YouthCare, we know that the key to helping young people get off the streets and preparing for life is to invest in their education and employment training, while simultaneously meeting their basic needs for survival.

A recent visit to the CJC construction site found young people building raised beds for the community garden there. With help from the worksite supervisor, these young women and men built a series of terraced garden boxes. In the beautiful summer weather, the students relished the opportunity to work outside: the week before had been spent pulling out ancient carpet that had been so thoroughly glued down it took six people pulling at once to get it up. At least one of the young men was familiar with the space: he had attended pre-school there years ago and was excited to be back to transform the building into something that would benefit the entire community.

This new space, originally built in 1912, will continue to house Community Arts Create and another organization, Mountain & Valley, but they also hope to develop gardening and food preparation classes for the community. Conference rooms and co-working spaces will be open to any organization or community group looking for a place to meet.

As a two-year federally funded pilot, YouthCare’s federal funds for CJC end in December. But the lessons we’ve learned about helping court-involved youth stay off the streets and engaged in the community continue. We are currently looking for local funding to continue to provide opportunities for education and job skills training to these young people.  Click here to make a donation in support of our education and employment training programs for homeless youth.