Dan Hust | Democrat
From the left, Rodney Clark, Rachel Lewis and Florencio Torres (seen with Torres’ daughter, Alexus) are members of the Youth Alliance Committee, a new group aiming to serve area teens with advice, programs and referrals.
New youth group forms, hopes to change lives
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO If anything good can come out of a murder, Florencio Torres, Rodney Clark, and Rachel Lewis hope they’ll be its genesis.
Together with Germaine Otero, Debbie Issman and their Orange County Community College professor, Dr. Elisa Street, they’ve created the Youth Alliance Committee (YAC).
“It started from the Stop the Violence March,” said Torres, the group’s chairman.
“Our entire class was there,” added Lewis, referring to the march that followed the death of Monticello resident Carl Williams this past summer.
Lewis, Torres and Clark are students of Dr. Street’s in OCCC’s Credentialled Alcohol Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) degree program.
And though most of their 30 classmates are from outside Sullivan County, they all attended the march, whose mission was to protest Williams’ murder and move in a healthy direction.
Torres and Clark, who carpool from Monticello to Middletown, talked it over while travelling to class, and with Street’s guidance and encouragement, YAC was born.
Its mission is to reach out to the youth in Sullivan County, providing referrals and programs that can improve their lives and those of their families’.
“Our role is to be advocates for those looking to us for support,” says their mission statement. “... By matching youth with social change projects, they have an opportunity to network, develop new skills, while sharing ideas in which both youth and communities benefit.”
But in an already crowded marketplace of local youth services, how do they plan to define a niche and perhaps more importantly, not compete with existing groups?
“We’re definitely not trying to duplicate services,” said Torres, who benefitted from a similar program when he was a troubled teenager some 18 years ago in Monticello.
Now a parent himself, Torres said there’s a definite need in and around Monticello for youth programs. He didn’t discount existing programs in fact, he said YAC will actively refer kids to those offerings but he added loners and Spanish-speakers tend not to participate in them, if only because of a lack of knowledge and confidence.
Using their own rough-and-tumble backgrounds as a stepping stone to communication, the group is already reaching out to these young people to get them on a healthier, more positive track.
“You’ve got to get on their level and see what they want,” explained Clark.
They’ve already done that with users of Monticello’s skate park, where Torres’ brother can often be found. They’ve not only found out that local kids have ideas for the park’s improvement but ideas for the whole community.
So YAC has named them a “street team” and engaged them in spreading the message that working together will lead to more opportunities and more fun.
“What better way to get the info out?” Torres said.
However, that message, he acknowledged, hasn’t been as warmly received by the community and other youth-oriented organizations.
YAC, after all, is looking for funding and operating space, which unavoidably puts the yet-to-be-incorporated organization in competition with much older, more established and proven groups.
So YAC members say they’re prepared to remain a grassroots, volunteer effort for as long as it takes, including past graduation from OCCC.
All they ask for right now is a room with a phone and computer preferably in Monticello or Liberty.
“We want a place where someone can come in and say, ‘We need help’,” explained Torres.
Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins has already pledged $5,000 of his own money to help in the effort to create a youth center, which the group hopes will spur more support.
“We need money, but it’s not about that,” said Torres. “We’re here for the good of our community.”
Their vision includes taking youth on fishing and camping trips, creating recreational and artistic programs, offering drug/alchohol/violence counseling, and plugging kids from around Sullivan County into programs and activities that will create healthy, productive, law-abiding citizens.
“We’re offering free services,” said Lewis.
And those services, she added, will be tailored to what local youth want not what some authority figure tells them they need.
“They’ve got a voice, and we can help them have a voice,” said Clark.
For more information on YAC, contact Torres at 707-6273, Clark at 665-9048, Lewis at 321-1880 or Otero at 326-7867.