Ocean City Today

Worcester youth services plans for future expansion

By Josh Davis | Feb 15, 2018
Photo by: JOSH DAVIS/OCEAN CITY TODAY Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing on Tuesday addresses plans to move some Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Programs into Pocomoke by 2022. Downing and other officials were at Worcester Youth in Berlin during a round table discussion for the release of the nonprofit’s five-year strategic plan.

(Feb. 16, 2018) In the next five years, Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services in Berlin would like to increase grant and donation funding by at least $5,000, expand existing services and staffing, develop a marketing plan and expand programs into Pocomoke.

The nonprofit on Tuesday released its five-year strategic plan to a group that included representatives from Berlin and Pocomoke government, envoys from the county health department, United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore, Cricket Center and Atlantic General Hospital.

Board President Robin Walter said the strategic planning process took about 18 months and included input from several subcommittees, as well as partners from throughout the community.

Tom Wilson, from Lower Shore Support Services, said the first and most obvious goal was raising money.

“We were convinced very early on that none of this was going to happen without more money,” he said. “I work with maybe a dozen different nonprofits here in Worcester and Wicomico. Not one of them doesn’t think about money every day or every week.”

Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said many groups are fighting for county dollars, but those willing to collaborate are often most successful.

“Our willingness to show partnerships actually loosens them up every time,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a trend and it’s definitely something that we’ve been told time and time again. For three or four of us to go ahead and say we’re working with the youth in this way … working together is going to be a big plus.”

Downing said the nonprofit is lucky to have the support of several state legislators, adding, “If we have to take the ride to Annapolis, that’s what we have to do.”

Worcester Youth Executive Director Steve Taylor said working together is also key for federal grants.

“There’s a lot of federal money available for projects that are in our wheelhouse – disadvantaged youth in particular. What federal agencies are looking for are partnerships that are much, much larger,” he said. “They want to provide a grant to a tri-county area, or a six-county area, or a state, preferably, because that’s less management on their part when they have to manage that grant.

“I think we need to expand the partnerships beyond our particular area so that we can take advantage of federal grants,” he added. “When I look at our budget pie chart, the federal piece is a sliver.”

Another popular theme during the roughly two-hour roundtable discussion was underserved youth.

While existing Worcester Youth programs such as the Berlin Youth Club, SAGES and SABERS serve younger children “We really identified that there’s a big, gaping hole for 15-to-18-year-olds,” Board Vice President Greta Del Corro said. “A lot of these kids don’t have the soft-skill training, the job readiness training and kind of self-awareness and personal care training. We’re staring that with SAGES and SABERS, but they don’t really have anywhere to transition to.”

To combat that, Worcester Youth plans to form a learning academy, with a prototype program already in place.

“The key, in my opinion, is having that youth program coordinator that can create a relationship with family members – a person they trust, a person that they feel they can communicate easily with. That’s really the strategy that’s needed,” Taylor said. “You can’t build a program and hope they will come – it won’t work.”

Del Corro said planners also often heard of the need for programming in Pocomoke.

“It came out over and over again,” she said. “We have a whole part of our plan … [of] expanding into that area. We’re starting by meeting with community leaders down there, assessing what is currently offered … maybe starting small as a prototype and then expanding from there.”

The strategic plan includes a timeline of starting a pilot program by 2020 and full implementation by 2022.

Kat Gunby, director of prevention for the Worcester County Health Department, said cultural barriers and stigmas must be overcome in Pocomoke, especially when it comes to mental health care.

Pocomoke City Councilman George Tasker was involved in Worcester Youth programs in Pocomoke back when it was called Family Connections.

“The same problems are there, and I think things have gotten worse,” he said.

“Worcester Youth did good things in Pocomoke. The fact of it is the distance and the cost made it very difficult,” Downing said, adding limited staff was another issue. “At the end, the building which we put all the money in, all the cash in, started having problems … finding a location that we don’t have to pay for would be ideal [as would] partnering with someone who is already in Pocomoke.”

Downing said Snow Hill and other rural areas in Worcester County also need services. He stressed the importance of a sound strategy.

“Everyone keeps screaming about that need, but to go in Pocomoke, we learned, you have to have a definite plan. You can’t have a Berlin plan going into Pocomoke,” he said.

To implement the various parts of the strategic plan, DelCorro said Worcester Youth is looking for help on its committees.

“We want to collaborate with everybody,” she said. “If you’re looking through this and there’s something that really touches your heart, or you know of someone in the community that this is a fit for, let Steve know or email Robin or I. We would love to have, even more just input.”

“If we want to truly serve people in this community, we have to look around and we have to get out of our silos and out of our tracks – and look across the tracks,” Taylor said. “Constantly think about these connections as we go about our day-to-day business. I think that’s what is really required of us at this point in time.”

Email Steve Taylor at staylor@gowoyo.org, Robin Walter at rwalter2007@gmail.com, or Greta Del Corro at Greta.a.chapman@gmail.com.

For more information about Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services, visit www.gowoyo.org or call 410 641-4598.

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