BERLIN – It wasn’t what the Eastern Shore had that brought Worcester County native Shawn Johnson back home, but what it didn’t.
After years spent working with at-risk youth in Houston, Baltimore and other areas, Johnson said he realized the need for mentoring programs and wrap-around services that benefited children and families in his own community.
“There was a lack of resources for these kinds of services,” he said. “I knew we could provide it, and we had the heart to want to help this community.”
And so, with the support of public and private partnerships, Johnson launched the Youth Care Center in 1998.
Each year, the nonprofit agency serves hundreds of local, under-served children through mentoring programs and services designed to meet mental, social and physical needs.
“If we can have as many opportunities and resources in one place, it’s more likely they will receive the services that are needed,” Johnson said.
While the nonprofit originally started with mentoring programs for youth in the tri-county area, Johnson, the executive director of Youth Care Center, said those programs soon highlighted the need for additional wrap-around services.
“We found that when we were mentoring, it was the first experience we had with the families as a whole,” he said. “When we got into the homes, we saw different things that were needed, such as mental health services, therapy components, drug addiction services, medication management. That is called the continuum of care.”
Today, the Youth Care Center features a psychiatric rehabilitation program, a job readiness program, therapy sessions and, most recently, a substance abuse program, in addition to its mentoring services.
And while the nonprofit has evolved over the years, officials with the Youth Care Center said the mission remains the same.
“At the end of the day, the primary focus is the kids,” said Dennis Naughton, chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “But to get there you have to address the parents, the school system and every aspect of their lives.”
In its 20 years of operation, the Youth Care Center has built working relationships with local school systems, health departments, businesses, nonprofits and government entities to establish programs that focus on academic advancement, social skill development, substance abuse and intervention, workforce development and environmental education.
Now, the nonprofit is seeking support from the community to revitalize its clinical mentoring program, in which children are provided services that enhance competency and life skills development.
“Maryland Choices was our funding source, and unfortunately the state funding evaporated and that’s why our mentoring program stalled for a year or two,” Johnson said. “But we are revitalizing. We just had a private investor who is putting money into the program, and we welcome businesses that would like to support the efforts we have going on.”
Naughton explained the nonprofit’s mentoring program provides kids with role models who are established in the community and can teach them to have faith in their futures.
“They have no idea what they are capable of if we don’t show them someone who came from the same situation and who is now successful,” he said.
For more information on the Youth Care Center, or to sponsor a mentee in the clinical mentoring program, visit www.youth-care.org. Johnson said the nonprofit will also participate in this year’s Shore Gives More campaign.