By Kim Walter
A new website aimed at addressing the health and well being of youth is now available to residents of the Lord Fairfax Planning District.
The website, www.youthresourcealliance.org, provides information and resource listings that directly impact youth. A variety of youth-related groups, services and activities are organized by locality and include information that link site visitors directly to each resource.
Also, noteworthy events and regular articles focusing on issues that affect young people in the area will be submitted by "front-line" agencies regularly.
The idea for the site came in early 2011 after Valley Health and the local United Way completed a Community Health Needs Assessment. Several work groups were established to address the top identified needs. Members of the Family Development and Social Health Work Group formed a subcommittee, the Youth Resource Alliance, to establish effective measures for reducing high risk youth behaviors highlighted by the assessment.
The alliance is made up of representatives from various agencies and groups that are vested in the health of local youth. They are dedicated to working collaboratively to address needs highlighted in the assessment, but also those needs and issues identified in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered during the past school year.
The group determined that while there are dozens of meaningful and successful organizations and individuals available to provide youth services in the area, many parents, guardians and professionals did not have ready access to information about those resources.
Shannon Urum, substance abuse and suicide prevention specialist at Northwestern Community Services in Front Royal, manages the site. She said the facility receives government funding to go toward prevention efforts and services.
Within that prevention grant, Urum decided to use a portion to start the website.
"When I came on board a year ago, the YRA was thinking about how they were going to combat some of the main issues among our communities' youth," she said. "The group really wanted a standalone site."
Urum said there are about 80 agencies registered with the site so far. Those agencies are organized by the communities they serve -- the City of Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren -- and then by the type of service offered.
Those service categories include after school, basic needs, faith-based, educational, mental health, teen pregnancy and other support. Urum said she hopes to grow the network, and wants to include every possible agency, business or individual that serves young people.
"I want to see ballet studios or sports teams," she said. "Organizations can be not-for-profit or for profit ... even an individual, like a counselor, can register their info."
Urum said she eventually would like to include a portion on parenting and community events.
"It's important to know that there are things to be done by everyone in the community that can make a difference in young peoples' lives," she said. "This is a multi-level effort."
Christa Shifflett, executive director of the Warren Coalition, said a big part of tackling risky behaviors in young adults is prevention.
On the website, Shifflett has posted a blog about how prevention efforts can save lives, but also money. For instance, the cost of sending juveniles to residential placement averages $280 a day, while the cost for holding juveniles in detention for one year is more than $100,000.
She also wrote that in 2009, 1,061 12 to 20 year olds went through alcohol treatment in Virginia. In 2010, the cost for youth alcohol treatment in the state was more than $40 million.
"From my standpoint, working with a prevention agency, I am so excited that this is finally happening," she said of the website. "We're really hoping this will be a one stop shop for activities, useful information and support for kids and their parents."
With the start of a new school year just around the corner, Shifflett said she thinks the website could be an invaluable resource for area parents.
"Maybe their kids needs a new activity to enroll in, and they aren't sure where to look, or maybe the parent is aware of a few issues developing with their kid," she said. "Hopefully, the site will grow to cover all those options."
Area agencies, business and individuals who feel they have something to add to the effort are encouraged to fill out a simple application for the website. Shifflett said each community has a designated coalition where applications and more information can be found.
The Warren Coalition covers Warren County, Family Youth Initiative covers Shenandoah County, CLEAN covers Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties, and Page Alliance for Community Action covers Page County.
"We don't want this resource to become stagnant, so we hope to keep updating it constantly," she said. "The ultimate goal is to include everyone who has a positive impact on our region's youth ... I couldn't even begin to guess just how many resources there are."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org