Youth intervention program expands in Sonoma County

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Bored and disengaged, Charlie Soto failed classes his freshman year at Petaluma’s Crossroads Alternative School. Now a sophomore at Petaluma High School, he said he’s passing classes and holding down a part-time, after-school job, making his single mom proud.

Soto credits his improvement to YouThrive, a youth program that provides counseling and behavioral and substance abuse workshops once a week during school hours. With the help of its youth specialists, he has learned to manage his emotions and develop empathy and self-control.

“It’s a fun group and it helps me keep going,” said Soto, 15.

YouThrive is a program of Side by Side, a San Anselmo-based nonprofit that serves vulnerable youth and their families in Sonoma and Marin counties. The nonprofit expanded local programs this school year to include early intervention for sixth-graders and parent workshops in Healdsburg.

YouThrive reaches about 180 students in Healdsburg and Petaluma middle and high schools, said Adrian Maldonado, the Santa Rosa-based program manager.

“We work with youth who are struggling with academics or don’t value going to school. They may have shaky relationships with teachers and peers,” Maldonado said. “As a youth, it’s very hard for them to find their voice, especially when they’re viewed as kids and not given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.”

Soto said counselor support made him feel more motivated to succeed. He works with a youth specialist who meets with him weekly in a small group setting, and rewards students for meeting behavioral and academic goals by taking them on trips — to the movies, the beach or on a hike. Soto said they even met over spring break.

“I’ve seen differences in a lot of my friends,” Soto said.

Maldonado said the idea to include a Healdsburg parent workshop stemmed from a desire to change school climates. YouThrive counselors came across some struggling, low-income Healdsburg Junior High students whose parents weren’t as involved with their children.

“Our role is just to provide education on certain topics and a few techniques,” Maldonado said.

The parent workshop isn’t exclusively for Latino families, Maldonado said, but YouThrive tailors its workshops based on the needs of each school site. The majority of Healdsburg Junior High students — 63 percent — are Latino, according to the California Department of Education.

Maldonado, who immigrated from central Mexico with his family when he was 5 years old, said he can relate to low-income immigrants families in Healdsburg, some of whom come to the area for farm work.

His parents struggled with a language barrier, picking his high school classes and navigating applications for free- and reduced-lunch and college. It can be intimidating for immigrant families to speak with school administrators, Maldonado said.

The parent workshop he manages informs parents about resources available, such as counseling and medical services for youth, food pantries and support groups.

“We give parents an understanding of social pressures that youth are exposed to,” Maldonado said.

Side by Side will host an evening fundraiser at the Griffo Distillery in Petaluma on Thursday. Tickets are $75 for one or a pair for $100. They can be purchased at https://bit.ly/2U0pfa8.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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