Merlene Davis: There's funding available for programs for youth

It is not often we hear of an agency that is giving away money, but that is exactly what Partners for Youth is trying to do.

Since 1995, when it was established by then-mayor Pam Miller, Partners for Youth has given grants and support to 242 youth-focused programs amounting to $1,114,000. In 2010-2011, about $60,000 was given to 33 local groups.

Laura P. Hatfield, executive director of Partners for Youth, said the Grassroots Allocations program offers grants that usually range between $500 and $3,000. That can be a windfall for a small, hands-on program that has a strained budget.

"It's about how to help our children with not a lot of money, but a lot of love," Hatfield said.

This summer, Mayor Jim Gray appointed the Commission on Youth Development and Public Safety after a spate of violence in and near downtown. A survey conducted by the commission found that there are four areas of interest for youth: programs connecting fathers with children, adult mentors, outlets for physical activities and life skills programs.

Those are the areas the grants will target. The deadline for applications is Feb. 1. The funding period is June 3, 2012 to April 4, 2013.

The Where Everybody Belongs program at Edythe J. Hayes Middle School is one example of life skills lessons for young people. In the program, known as WEB, eighth-graders mentor and interact with sixth-graders to help ease the younger students' transition to middle school. The older students learn to be leaders, and the younger ones find peers who help them to fit in.

Shawn Reaves, a behavior-intervention specialist and one of the WEB coordinators, said nearly 70 eighth-graders completed a two-day training session in early August to become WEB leaders. They then greeted 300 sixth-graders on the first day of school and hosted monthly activities with them. The older students tutor them, answer questions or simply befriend their younger classmates.

The problems are usually basic, sometimes as simple as opening their lockers or dealing with a teacher, Reaves said.

"When you learn from a peer, it is more meaningful," Reaves said.

This is the fourth year for the program, and Hayes was the first school in the state to offer it, he said. WEB received $2,200 from Partners for Youth, which helped provide games and snacks for activities and supplies for the orientation, Hatfield said.

And that was greatly appreciated, Reaves said.

"The first couple of years of the program, the youth services center covered some of the costs," Reaves said. "But their budget has been cut almost 75 percent" in recent years.

WEB also received money from local churches, but that money is drying up as well, he said.

Funding for the Partners for Youth grants come from the Urban County Government and private donations, Hatfield said. Toyota has been a generous donor, she said.

To propose a program for a grant, download and fill out an application at Tell them how you will use the money.

A committee will review proposals and select the ones that fit the criteria.

Partners for Youth is a quasi-governmental agency — meaning it is supported by the government but managed privately — that was formed after Sgt. Phil Vogel, a white police officer, shot and killed Tony Sullivan, an unarmed black youth, in October 1994. Unrest ensued, and the shooting later was ruled accidental.

The non-profit agency was established to bring together a coalition of community forces interested in helping disadvantaged youth.

"The community knows the needs of their youth better than anyone," Hatfield said. "If they have trouble with the application, there will be a training session on Jan. 23."

Reservations are required for that session, and program representatives who attend the session will gain bonus points.

If the number of applying groups increases, "I'll have to put on my tennis shoes and knock on some doors" to find more donors and more money, she said.

"They can also contact me if they'd like to financially support this initiative," Hatfield said. "The more money we have, the more we can distribute to our community."