Group, Berlin May Join Forces On Youth Services

BERLIN – The Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS) made a presentation to Berlin’s Mayor and Council on Monday in the hopes of forming a partnership with the town.

Prior to the meeting, the council had planned on hiring one part-time employee to handle youth services. However, when WYFCS Executive Director Teresa Fields heard about the town’s need, she approached the council about the possibility of having Berlin take the funding it would have used to hire that part-time employee and instead contract the entire WYFCS agency to fulfill the same roll, a proposal which seemed to meet general approval from the council, though nothing has been finalized yet.

“We love Berlin, we know Berlin; we’ve been here for 25 years,” Fields said.

WYFCS, which provides umbrella support to many area family groups, pitched the idea of Berlin-centric programs, including the formation of a Berlin Youth Advisory Council (BYAC), which would be headed by WYFCS Director of Development and Donor Relations Stefanie Gordy. Besides members of WYFCS staff, Fields proposed including residents of the town and especially area youth on the council.

“We need their perspective,” Fields told The Dispatch when asked why she wanted to include youths on the board. “We see youths as a resource.”

According to Fields, the BYAC would have several primary goals, including creating focus groups and examining existing youth service programs in Berlin. The council would determine what those groups were doing well and whether there were gaps that could be filled by either expanding the programs currently in place or by generating entirely new ones.

“This plan would be a fluid process,” Fields told the Mayor and Council, explaining the BYAC would stay in constant contact with town officials to keep them in the loop and help the process run smoothly.

In her presentation to the council, Fields outlined some of her agency’s qualifications. One of the biggest points in favor of Berlin choosing to contract WYFCS instead of a single part-timer is the size and experience of the organization’s staff. Fields pointed out that there was a 13-member Board of Directors, 19 full-time staff, four interns and over 100 volunteers.

“We’re all in support of this project,” she said. “What a groundbreaking partnership it could be.”

Besides staff and experience, Fields cited the group’s ties to the area.

“We have many established partnerships in the community,” she said, promising the council that all of those connections would be brought in to help youth in Berlin if the agency was contracted. “By combining resources, this could be a pretty exciting joint venture.”

Gordy, who would be upgraded from a part-time WYFCS employee to full-time if the council accepted the proposition, reinforced the assertion assessment that the job was too big for just one person and could be much better run by a group.

“You’re not just choosing me … you’re choosing a whole team of dedicated people,” said Gordy, indicating several members of the WYFCS staff were in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

Fields also pointed out in her presentation that this would not be the first time that a municipality and a family service agency partnered up.

“There are many, many joint ventures like this,” she said.

Mayor Gee Williams said an agency will always be able to accomplish more than a single, part-time employee.

“It’s almost an unfair comparison,” said Williams. “I’m proud that the idea…came from citizens of the community.”

When asked when her organization could start working with the town, Fields replied that they would be “ready to start tomorrow.”

However, some members of the council wondered if the WYFCS was exactly what the town was looking for in regards to youth services.

“I think the concept is a splendid one,” said Councilman Dean Burrell.

However, Burrell expressed concern at some of the numbers given during the presentation, specifically the fact that less than a quarter of current WYFCS clients are under 18.

Fields answered by saying that the agency plans on increasing that percentage in the next few years until youths make up the largest portion of clients served. She added the partnership with Berlin would be a good way to start that shift in numbers.

Another worry was that Berlin youths would not receive enough specific attention as the WYFCS has a very wide client base throughout the county. When asked how her agency would solve this, Fields explained to The Dispatch that WYFCS has numerous gender-, age- and situation-based programs already in place.

“The only difference we’ll see with this project is that it is geographically focused,” said Fields.

The council decided to compose written guidelines and goals in regards to what the town would want from the WYFCS. Fields endorsed the idea, informing the council that “memorandums of agreement” were common.

At the end of the presentation, a plan to draft those guidelines and have them voted on at the council’s Feb. 28 meeting was approved.