BRATTLEBORO -- It's been 40 years since a group of Windham County residents first came together to form an organization that could support at-risk youth in the region.
Over the course of four decades, the members of Youth Services have watched the world change around them.
Funding, while always a challenge, has tightened up.
A sluggish economy has put more demands on everyone and it is a little harder to find volunteers.
And every year, it seems, more is expected from our youth.
Yet at its core, Youth Services has always been about building relationships between youth and the adults in their community, and while the organization has grown and changed over the years, that mission remains constant.
"We're a place where youth or families who need support can come for help," said Julie Davenson, Youth Services executive director. "We have always been about helping youth succeed but sometimes they don't have the resources they need and that's where we help."
Youth Services was incorporated in 1972, a few years after a handful of independent organizations had formed to help families that were falling through the cracks.
Even with state and federal help, some of the groups found that families needed extra support and so they formed Youth Services, largely with the help of local donations which helped get the idea off the ground.
The organization today administers its support through a variety of programs which seek to empower youth and families by helping get through challenging times.
It's restorative justice program, for instance, supports youth when they become involved with the criminal justice system, and Youth Service offers a number of services through its substance abuse prevention program.
Davenson says that regardless of which program the families and youth are working in, Youth Services concentrates on the one-to-one interactions that occur between the clients and the staff.
"Mentoring is something that is inherent in every program here," said Davenson. "I think it all goes to back to being human and how we thrive when we develop positive relationships."
At the same time, Davenson said that while the group's goals and strategies have remained the same, the world outside has gone through changes.
A few years ago, she said, Youth Services put resources into working with teenage runaways. But the work was based on the premise that the youth would eventually return to their families.
Now, according to Davenson, staff members are seeing more homeless youth who have no where to go because their families are dealing with crises of their own.
In many cases there is no home to go back to and so Youth Services is forced to work on employment, housing and transportation issues to help the youth make a transition to life on their own.
These changes, she says, are forcing some big shifts within the organization.
While runaway youth would typically receive support by therapists who were trying to help them get back into their homes, Davenson said the group is shifting its resources into more case workers who can work with the youth to help them establish homes of their own.
"Just because an organization exists it doesn't necessarily mean that it is relevant," she said. "You have to look at what the needs are and then grow and change and adapt."
In 2011, 1,628 individuals were served through a Youth Services program around Windham County.
The group gets about 54 percent of its annual $1.9 million budget through state contracts and local fundraising accounts for 15 percent of the group's annual income.
In 2011 more than $252,000 was raised through local activities.
Davenson said that as Youth Services continues to change what it does to meet a changing need, its core value will always remain in helping families and youth succeed by giving them the support they need.
"For a lot of kids we are their last option and we don't ever give up on a kid," she said. "We try to create those relationships so they know there is always someone here for them. We know we can't solve all their problems but we can help them get to where they need to be so they can get through it."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.