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Building Teens Up: The Story of Elevate Youth Services

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Comcast awarded Elevate Youth Services a $25,000 grant to improve access to technology for young people. Left to right: Rep. Theresa Wood (Washington-Chittenden); Chris McDonald, Comcast Senior Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs; Rep. Jubilee McGill (Addison-5); Kreig Pinkham, Elevate Youth Services Executive Director; Rep. Kate McCann (Washington-4); Rep. Eileene Dickenson (Franklin-2); Dana Lawrence, Youth Services Executive Board Chair; Nicole Bachand, Elevate Youth Services Executive Director of Operations; Dan Gianville, Comcast Vice President of Government Affairs and Community Impact. Photo by Paul Richardson.
Joe (not his real name) was 16. Sometimes he slept in a tent, sometimes in a sleeping bag in the woods. He did find temporary housing on occasion, but his future seemed as bleak as his past. Joe was orphaned at birth, then adopted when he was five and abandoned at 12. After that, his only option was the foster care system, but he was soon on his own again. 

Joe’s story took a sharp turn for the better when he connected with Elevate Youth Services (formerly known as the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, now located on Granger Road in Berlin). The nonprofit organization offered him the support many teenagers assume is a given, a safe place to live, regular meals, and an adult who can provide emotional support and life training skills. His Elevate case manager was also there to listen and to help Joe plan for the future.

Today Joe is in his third year of college and “thriving.” 

His story exemplifies the mission of Elevate Youth Services “to promote safety, competence, and confidence as youths create their path through adolescence and into adulthood.” 

Elevate helps about 500 youths a year and is currently working with 350 different clients. Elevate’s Executive Director Kreig Pinkham explains that the mission requires an array of services. 

One of the programs, Country Roads, offers direct services to families and youths between the ages of 12 and 26. Trained counselors work with families dealing with conflict or stress. Those counselors may also be assisting homeless young people. 

What might happen to a teen who remains on the streets? One study from youth.gov  reports that in 11 cities, 44% of homeless kids had spent time in jail, prison, or had been involved in the juvenile justice system. Nearly 62% had been arrested, some more than once, and that correlation was greater if the young person had been abused. 

Youths who have rarely had a trusted adult in their lives need more than a roof over their heads. Elevate offers opportunities to learn the basics. How do you apply for a job? How do you open a bank account? What if you want to go back to school? 

Mitigating the effects of homelessness is just one way in which Elevate carries out its mission. Young people who are leaving the foster care system at age 18 may not be ready for that challenge.

“Eighteen is just a number. Some are ready for adulthood, however,” Pinkham notes with a smile. “Many of us aren’t.” Elevate can help these kids learn to navigate an increasingly complex world. 

Those who are moving out of the juvenile justice system are also in need of support. According to Pinkham, case managers will work with them to find jobs and housing. In addition, they’ll help their clients develop “rules for living.”

One of the most visible resources of Elevate Youth Services was called the Basement Teen Center, a drop-in center located in the basement of Montpelier’s City Hall. Until the flood of 2023, it was a safe place for teens to gather. Now it’s gone.

“Most people don’t realize how much goes into setting up a teen center,” says Pinkham. Even with donated space and some volunteers, it will take at least $200,000 to bring it back.

On the plus side for Elevate, Comcast has given the nonprofit a $25,000 grant to improve their clients’ access to technology. A press release from the organization said the grant will fund its “Youthlink program, which will place technology in the hands of youths while promoting digital competency, online safety, social connection, and transferable career readiness skills.”

Pinkham notes that kids need technology to boost educational and career opportunities. He also notes that some, including  LGBTQIA+ youths, need the internet to connect with people like themselves.

It’s hard to measure the effect of an organization like Elevate Youth Services, but participants seem to have a handle on it. M.K. (not her real initials) was an Elevate client for many years. She’s now working with the state Youth Advisory Board to create a document that will help kids who are aging out of the foster care system. 

Reflecting on her history with Elevate, M.K. says, “I’ve become something of a leader, an advocate for change.” 

Asked if Elevate Youth Services is a better name for the nonprofit than its former name, M.K. thinks for a moment, then nods her head and says “It’s a good name. They do build you up.” 

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