The Alliance For Youth has been a part of North Central Montana for 35 years. Started by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to address underage drinking, it has grown to help support and create healthy youth and family development.
The non-profit has embarked on a new project that is needed in the community now more than ever. “We’ve just been that backbone support within the community,” said Executive Director Kristy Ponte-Stroop.
Through partnerships with other organizations, the Alliance for Youth has helped young people like Dylan Ziobro who had been kicked out of his house and Jon Brady who was homeless. “Really I do whatever they need me to do,” said Ziobro. “First and foremost I’m here for the kids, but beyond that I help with whatever.”
“I’m trying to get enrolled, with a tribal ID, so they’re helping me with that,” said Brady.
Their latest endeavor is the Youth Resource Center, an idea 15 years in the making that became reality when the pastor of Victory Church called Kristi out of the blue.
“He told me, ‘We have this building, what could you use it for?’” said Pontet-Stroop. “Honestly I started to cry.”
The 16,000-square foot building is sorely needed.
“There are 600 kids in foster care in Cascade County, that’s twice the state average in Montana,” said Development Director Thomas Risberg. “There are 475 kids that are homeless at some point during the year.”
Lisa Beavers, the Director of Operations who is in charge of the center’s volunteers, is amazed by the community’s support. “We had one teacher that initiated a sock drive at East Junior High,” said Beavers. “I have one lady that brings frozen pizzas every week. That’s just her thing, on Tuesday she brings us frozen pizzas.”
Access to the center includes basic services like laundry, showers and the food pantry. Wi-fi and computer access are also available.
The 13 to 20 year-olds who use the center also learn life skills, tailor made for modern times.
“We’re going to do some sewing they’re going to make their own masks,” said Pontet-Stroop. “They’re going to tie-dye them and make those with us so we’re doing a lot of life skills.”
As the center grows, it plans to add more services including a health and dental clinic and mental health counseling. To get there, the non-profit still needs to raise considerable money.
“To own the building we’re going to need an additional $350,000 but to get to a sustainability aspect we need to get to three million dollars,” said Pontet-Stroop.
“We are a lean, determined 501-C3 non-profit,” said Risberg. “Every dollar that you give we leverage it by partnering with folks to get the most services for the most youth that we possibly can.”
It may sound like a lot, but for people like Dylan and Jon, and hundreds of other kids, the payoff could be priceless. “I’ve had people come and say, ‘Oh it’s so nice that you’re helping those people,’” said Beavers. “Well those people are in every family. Those people have struggles with mental health issues, with substance abuse.”
“At the age of 18, 19 you’re struggling with adulthood, that’s also a difficult thing,” said Ziobro.
“If I had known this was here when I was homeless, you know I wouldn’t have struggled as bad,” said Brady.
The Alliance For Youth website provides this overview:
Youth will have access to food, clothing and hygiene items, in addition to shower and laundry facilities. The resource center will not be a shelter but will provide an important space for youth to escape the elements and—for a short time—a chance to rest and refocus. Our goal will be, as expeditiously as possible, to divert youth toward stable housing, employment, education, and well-being.
Alliance for Youth will coordinate meals, which will be donated from local businesses, churches and/or community members. There will be a dry-serve kitchen for re-heating and/or preparing non-grease item foods.
Alliance for Youth’s Resource Center will utilize community partners to move the youth from surviving to thriving. Initially, case management support (housing, transportation needs, obtaining a birth certificate or ID, job skills, etc.), community support groups (AA, NA, SMART Recovery) and other life skills support assistance will be provided within the center. In the initial stages, programming will vary as we develop and track common trends of individual needs of the youth. With that said, we will strive to meet youth where they are and find creative solutions to their individual needs.
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