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Three Vermont Communities Face Deep Budget Cuts In Social Services For Teens

allyson_howell-teen_center-newport-vpr-albright-20150713.jpg
Charlotte Albright
/
VPR
Allyson Howell, director of Newport's Teen Center, laments the loss of three-quarters of the center's budget for next year.

Three communities — Newport, Rutland and Barre — are facing big budget cuts for services aimed at helping at-risk youth. Federal funds for a grant program called Youth In Transition have been reduced, so the state is making some tough decisions about how to spend what remains of the grant.

That’s making winners and losers in a social service arena already strapped for cash.

One of the losers is the Teen Center in Newport. It’s housed along with many other social services in the basement of a brick building on Main Street. In one corner, a small kitchen where daily meals are served to hungry kids. Near a comfy couch are Internet-ready computers, board games and art supplies. It’s a place where young people learn how to find help, including housing if necessary. And it’s a safe hangout.

“Seeing these kids every single day ... They need this," says Allyson Howell, who has been directing the center for the past year. "This is an important, special place."

“To think that it could be gone is tragic … You know, we live in one of the most economically depressed parts of the state,” Howell notes.

Newport’s teen center doors could close because it will lose about $52,000 this year — three quarters of its budget. The state says cuts in youth services were inevitable because a federal grant has been decreased. But instead of reducing support equally for each of the 12 community grantees, the Vermont Department of Mental Health decided to cut funds for three programs, and maintain full support for the other nine.

Instead of reducing support equally for each of the 12 community grantees, the Vermont Department of Mental Health decided to cut funds for three programs, and maintain full support for the other nine.

The department’s Charlie Bliss says those nine grantees showed the best results meeting the goals of the grant: to increase youth voices, connect them with social service partners and deliver behavioral health in innovative ways.

“Some areas really excelled in getting youth involvement and leadership and advocacy, and those areas we did not want to cut because we were afraid we would lose all that momentum,” Bliss says.

But Bliss acknowledges that Newport, Rutland, and Barre — communities struggling with drug addiction and other problems putting youth at risk — will not get any Youth In Transition money next year. He says that was an extremely hard decision and hopes they find alternative sources of support.

But Rutland’s center director says it will definitely close. In Barre, there is no teen center, but youth outreach services will be reduced. In Newport, the teen center has mounted an Internet fund-raising campaign.

"To think that it could be gone is tragic ... You know, we live in one of the most economically depressed parts of the state." - Allyson Howell, Newport Teen Center director

If that campaign fails, Lindsey Olmstead, youth development coordinator for Northeast Kingdom Community Action, says the whole community could suffer.

“Unfortunately, I think that what happens, especially in towns where there is nothing else going on, I think a lot of youth find themselves doing things and making choices that are not positive. And I think that this community is really going to feel that,” she says.

This is also a community, Olmstead notes, at the heart of an ambitious $650 million economic revitalization project. Young adults, she says, need to stay healthy and productive if they are to take advantage of those new jobs. And social services, for many kids she knows, can be a ladder to those goals.

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