Success center aims to help at-risk youth

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — The Timbrook Achievement Center — TAC for short — works hard to help at-risk youth in Winchester and Frederick County.

Since its opening in October 2019, TAC has welcomed 56 participants (it was closed from March 2020 to October 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

The center, located on the Youth Development Center campus, is for teens ages 14-18 who have been referred to the nonprofit group by the court system, social services, local school systems, providers individuals or family members.

The TAC is a place where these kids go after school four days a week, Monday through Thursday, 3-8 p.m. — when minors are most likely to get into trouble. They have a snack, do their homework, cook dinner together, then sit around the table with staff and share their “highs and lows of the day,” said Elizabeth Kellas, a judge at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. of Frederick/Winchester, at a recent TAC opening. lodge.

That may not seem like a big deal, “but it’s a big step for these young people,” said Kellas, who is the driving force behind the ATC and chair of its steering committee.

A summer program is also available.

Audio recordings of a few ATC attendees were shared during the open house. One teenager said TAC encouraged him to “stay on track”. Another said the program kept her busy and ‘keeps her out of trouble’.

ATC participants were not present at the open day as many of them are involved in the courts and the program strives to keep their identities confidential.

Kellas said TAC’s goal is to provide a comprehensive detention alternative for truant and delinquent youth.

“Many young people in our community face poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, mental health issues, violence and a general lack of hope,” she wrote in an email. . “We were detaining kids who were skipping school because we had few other options in the community. »

The closure of Winchester’s Timbrook Reporting Center in 2016 added to the void.

Two years later, inspiration for TAC was sparked when Kellas attended a conference and heard a presentation about a youth success center in Washington, D.C. Attendees were encouraged to lead their communities in development similar programs. One of Kellas’ colleagues, Judge Kimberly Athey, was also present at the conference.

Kellas said Athey looked at her and said, “You’re gonna want to do this, aren’t you?”

It was definitely something she wanted to pursue.

The journey to create TAC began with no money, no location, no staff, and no transportation.

Those boxes have since been checked, thanks to a lot of hard work, although some aspects of the TAC have changed over time.

Modeled on the Timbrook Reporting Center and the Achievement Center in Washington, DC, each TAC participant has an individualized plan and goals, which are created with input from family. A psychological evaluation is completed through Northwestern Community Services, if it has not already been completed.

In addition to homework help, participants learn life skills and participate in field trips and other activities. They may also receive advice from outside sources for substance abuse or anger management.

“Achievement is different for every young person,” Kellas explained. “When they enter the program, they set professional, academic, life skills, good behavior and other goals. Once these objectives have been achieved, they graduate.

TAC participants have a high school graduation rate of 78%. While that may sound low, Kellas said, “I promise from direct interaction in court that many of these young people would not have started graduating without the help of TAC.”

The program’s recidivism rate is 23% — 13 young people committed new criminal offenses after participating in TAC, but eight of them participated in TAC for less than 15 days. Data shows that the longer a young person stays at TAC — 28 days or more — the more likely they are to be successful in the program, Kellas pointed out.

The TAC currently has 10 participants – six from Winchester and four from Frederick County, according to Johnny Craig, executive director of the program since July 1. He is also the executive director of Teens Inc., a non-profit organization that provides training. for at-risk youth and people with disabilities in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

“We want to help our community improve,” Craig said.

TAC now operates under Teens Inc. The programs are located adjacent to each other on the Youth Development Center campus.

TAC’s funding and support has been a “community collaboration,” Kellas said.

A $50,000 grant from the state Department of Juvenile Justice was used to purchase furniture and equipment. Initially, TAC was located in a different building on the YDC campus. In June 2021, he moved to another building. The YDC provides TAC with the space in exchange for TAC carrying out major renovations to the building, including the installation of a kitchen. Winchester Public Schools provides teachers as well as student transportation with the TAC. Frederick County Public Schools also provide transportation. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, and Winchester Sheriff’s Office staff a few hours each day so that TAC participants have positive interactions with law enforcement.

TAC has five employees, not including teachers or the police.

Preparing the new space took a lot of work, with help from community organizations, friends and family. Carroll Construction did most of the renovations. The space is now cheerfully decorated with student artwork on the walls and study areas.

Some of TAC’s initial funding streams have ended, so the program is currently funded by the Comprehensive Services Act (state and local dollars), the State Department of Juvenile Justice, and scholarships. Program officials also continue to seek other sources of funding.

“The uniqueness of TAC is the family engagement component, as well as law enforcement support,” Kellas noted.

Like the Timbrook Reporting Center, the TAC is named after Winchester Police Department Sgt. Ricky Timbrook, killed in the line of duty in 1999.

Several members of Timbrook’s family attended the ATC Open House.

Kellas said Timbrook “spent time in the community and mostly took young people under his wing to show them there was another way but to get in trouble.”

TAC tries to do that too.

“All young people deserve a chance to succeed and thrive, if we can just provide one-on-one support for young people and their families along the way,” Kellas said.

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