Baton Rouge resident Cecilia Trevino started taking care of her 17-year-old nephew a few months ago after he got into trouble in Houston.
While trying to get the teen some help, Trevino said she got “the runaround” until she was introduced to the people at the Family and Youth Service Center, which houses representatives of many social service and law enforcement agencies under one roof.
“They’ve helped him get back on track,” Trevino said. “If he has a problem, all he has to do is call.”
Trevino is one of at least 200 people who have received services at the center since it opened Aug. 8, according to figures the center staff released Monday after a grand opening event at the facility.
Center Director Roxson Welch said people like Trevino’s nephew — who was struggling to stay in school and toying with a life of crime — are the ones the center aims to help.
“I want to give children their dreams back,” Welch said at Monday’s celebration. “I want to take away the obstacles in front of them and help them achieve their goals.”
The idea for the Family and Youth Service Center was sparked three years ago in discussions between District Attorney Hillar Moore III and Mayor-President Kip Holden. They started talking to community members about fixing a fragmented system that struggles to keep children in school.
A link between truancy and juvenile crime prompted the discussion, Holden and Moore have said, citing statistics that show more than half of the crimes committed by juveniles in the parish occur during school hours.
To try to address the problem, a truancy task force was created that comprised Moore’s office, Holden’s office, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce, Truancy Assessment and Service Center and LSU School of Social Work.
The task force landed initial funding for the center and a three-year, no-cost lease allowing it to be housed at the former Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired, 1120 Government St.
“What started out as a vision is now a reality,” Moore said.
The truancy center, in conjunction with a new program called Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project, or BRAVE, are steps in the right direction toward reducing crime in Louisiana’s capital city, Moore said.
“We have a lot of promise here in Baton Rouge right now,” he said.
Holden called the Family and Youth Service Center “a life saver and a crime deterrent.”
The center’s aim is to help children and their families and, as a result, boost public school attendance and reduce juvenile crime in East Baton Rouge Parish, he said.
The center houses representatives from an array of agencies dedicated to keeping children in school and fighting crime.
One of the center’s lead occupants is the Truancy Assessment and Service Center, a state-funded organization that has helped reduce truancy across the state, including in East Baton Rouge Parish, a city-parish news release says.
Other tenants include the Mayor’s Office of Juvenile Services, the District Attorney’s juvenile and truancy coordinator, the East Baton Rouge Parish School-Drug Task Force, the School System’s Children and Welfare and Attendance Unit, Capital Area Health Services District, BRAVE and the state Office of Children Services and the Capital Area Health Services District will move in next week.
THRIVE Academy, a new inner-city public boarding school, is also housed at the center. It occupies an unused residential building on the 9-acre campus and started the school year with 20 sixth-graders.
Initial funding for the Family and Youth Service Center comes from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, the city-parish, the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, which have each committed $100,000 in annual operating funds for the next three years, the city-parish news release says.
Private foundations also have contributed, and more funds will need to be raised for renovations.
Welch said she hopes the community will see the center’s worth.
“Addressing truancy is addressing the root of juvenile crime,” she said. “By doing so, we are improving the quality of life for everyone.”