Conference Focuses on Transitioning Youth from State Custody to Communities
More than 150 individuals gathered in Charleston this week for a meeting that was the first of its kind.
Hosted by the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling Charleston, the day long conference brought together the state Division of Juvenile Services, Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Education with religious and community social service programs to focus on an issue that’s becoming more and more visible in West Virginia: transitioning juveniles from state custody back into their communities.
Amidst a day full of meetings and brain storming sessions, conference attendees also met Jimmy, a twenty- two-year-old Kanawha County resident who preferred to not be identified with his last name.
Jimmy was a former resident of the Salem Industrial Home for Youth, the maximum security youth home that was closed after a 2012 lawsuit that claimed the home did not facilitate rehabilitation for youth and was instead more like an adult prison. At age 16, Jimmy was sent to the facility after a domestic battery charge.
Despite spending nearly a year in the harsh environment of Salem and a large portion of his childhood in and out of DHHR placements, Jimmy was able to succeed. He received a grant from the Salvation Army to pay for the first six months of his housing after release, found a job and learned how to live on his own, he said because something "just clicked."
“Something has to click in your mind to make you want to change and mine was, I don’t like the way my life is. So, I wanted it to change," he said.
But Jimmy will tell you he didn't do it alone. He did it with the help of Julie Timmermeyer, his community resource coordinator.
One of just 12 in the state, Timmermeyer was assigned to Jimmy to help him find his first apartment, apply for his first job and navigate state and federal aid programs.
“We as after care, we wear many hats. One is a mentor, one is sometimes a teacher type," Timmermeyer said, "but a lot of times, we’re a parent.”
She joined with her fellow resource coordinators, state education and health employees, and religious and community service organizations to discuss how the groups can create more Jimmys, more success stories.
The biggest challenges pointed out at the conference: access to affordable house, mental health and substance abuse services and transportation.
Funding is an easy way to fix those problems, but not so easy to get. Instead conference attendees focused on on working together to coordinate services, brainstorming ways to get the community involved in the transition process, and lobbying lawmakers about the importance of funding services at the local level.