Youth360 bringing wraparound services to teens in Union County

Feb. 24—LA GRANDE — They say it takes a village to raise a child, but unfortunately not every child gets the support of a village.

Youth360 is looking to change that.

The program originated from meetings of the Youth Alliance Union County and is the dream of Kitia Chambers, resilience coordinator at the Union County Juvenile Department. Chambers, along with Nicholas Batten from the Training and Employment Consortium, have been the driving force behind the program.

"I'm really excited to bring this community together to empower youth," Chambers said. "The project exploded to life a few years ago when there were teens staying at the warming station."

The end goal is to provide wraparound services for youth, said Batten, including transitional housing and job training for at-risk youth. Stable housing is crucial to removing barriers and allowing youth to succeed.

Chambers said one of the next steps is establishing the organization as its own entity. There is still a decision to be made about what type of entity it will be, such as a nonprofit or a limited liability company. The program's creators will be seeking legal advice to determine the best path forward.

The organization held a mixer at Market Place Fresh Foods on Wednesday, Feb. 22, for community leaders who have been involved in the project or who might be involved in the future.

Youth360 finalized its strategic plan and is currently working on a feasibility study to analyze the proposed project and determine its likelihood of succeeding, according to Chambers. This will include performing a needs assessment.

As part of the feasibility study the organization is running a 12-week teen job training program that launches March 7. Chambers said the program will focus on job skills, interpersonal relationships and self-awareness.

As part of the pilot program upwards of 30 teens from Union County will be paired with local job opportunities, Chambers said. The job opportunities are being sourced by the Training and Employment Consortium — an association that aims to alleviate conditions of unemployment and underemployment within Baker, Union, Wallowa, Harney and Malheur counties.

The plan is to reach out to schools for recommendations on students that could benefit from the program. Chambers added that they will also get recommendations from the county's Juvenile Department and the Center for Human Development.

Youth360 will gather direct feedback from the youth enrolled in the program about specific sessions and the overall experience.

"Their voices will guide this project," Chambers said.

Following the conclusion of the pilot program the organization will look at the data and analyze the results before deciding on next steps.

The organization has secured $300,000 in grant funding. Youth360 received grants through the Oregon Youth Development Division's Future Ready funds, Department for Human Services' Youth Experiencing Homelessness program and Oregon Community Foundation, and additional grant possibilities are being pursued.

Youth360 is working with around 15 local leaders who will serve as ambassadors, such as Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen.

"They approached me last year and I said absolutely, anything I can do to help out the kids," the sheriff said.

Tara Bishop with Training and Employment Consortium is another ambassador of the program. She will provide insight and assistance with educational support, including the General Educational Development tests — a series of tests to show high school equivalency.

In addition to Training and Employment Consortium, the organization has partnerships in place with Baker Technical Institute and the Fletcher Group.

BTI provides educational opportunities in hands-on fields, such as welding, construction, engineering, agriculture and nursing.

Chambers said that with BTI the program's directors are discussing expanding vocational training and paid apprenticeships. They are also having conversations with Union County school districts.

Fletcher Group is a nonprofit with a focus on addiction recovery and addressing homelessness. The organization is assisting with the feasibility study, Chambers said.

The Presbyterian Friendship Center, in La Grande, has been the organization's temporary home, Chambers said. She would like to see Youth360 find a permanent location where they can make teens feel at home, but she doesn't know when that will happen.

"The goal is for the community to be the campus," she said.

Isabella Crowley is a reporter for The Observer. Contact her at 541-624-6014 or