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Thursday, Dec 27, 2012

Federal grant for youth program

Berkshire’s LIFE House/Runaway and Youth Program in Broome County has received a three-year, $166,000 grant to help teens who have or are at risk of running away. The grant, from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, is the fourth such grant the program has received over the past 10 years.image

LIFE House helps keep teens in their own homes, work toward solving their problems, and ensure a safer future by providing free, safe, confidential support services (including shelter services) for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth. The benefits are considerable: runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth discover alternatives to running away; local school districts see improved attendance and academic performance and they gain additional resources to help meet the needs of troubled students; and Broome County has access to critical services that help avoid the need for more extensive and costly measures.

“The entire community benefits when we help keep families together, help youth avoid unsafe situations, and avert emergencies and incidents requiring medical, police, or court involvement,” said Timothy Giacchetta, Berkshire Farm Center CEO. “In addition to the human cost, the financial impact of these situations can be significant. With tightening budgets and shrinking resources, we have to ensure that our programs are as cost effective as possible, and LIFE House is a great example,” he added.

Most youths in the program either stay in their family home with added support or transition to a safer environment. The results: better school attendance and academic performance; less at-risk behavior with fewer life-changing or even life-endangering consequences; improved problem-solving and communication skills; and a much better chance of accomplishing their own long-term goals.

Program Coordinator Steve Somma says there is no typical runaway/homeless youth, and the profile and type of youth served have changed considerably over the decade LIFE House has been at work. "Most youth who are not at home are “couch-surfing”, explained Mr. Somma.  "They use friends, relatives, non-custodial parents, and in some cases people they shouldn’t be staying with."

Initially, the objective was to make public and service providers aware that this population even existed and to set up an ‘early-warning system’ to provide intervention before youths actually left their homes. “It is safer and we’re more likely to see progress being made on family issues while the youth is actually still at home,” explained Mr. Somma.

Over 85% of the youth seeking LIFE House services or in need of service providers such as Berkshire Farm Center come from families where their parents are divorced, separated, or otherwise not together.  “LIFE House and our runaway and homeless youth program focus strongly on prevention because, once youths taste a lack of supervision and have been more or less independent actors, for better or worse, it is extremely difficult to get them to accept any living arrangement where supervision and accountability are present,” said Mr. Somma. 

The Basic Center Grant from the Administration for Family and Children’s Family & Youth Services Bureau is awarded with $166,000 provided annually for three consecutive years. LIFE House has now been awarded four of these federal grants since the program began operation in 2001. In a time of increasing competition for increasingly scarce state, local, and private (foundation and other) resources, these grants have become very important to runaway and homeless youth programs nationwide.

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