Four local nonprofits are banding together to help at-risk and imperiled youth before they get into trouble.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Resiliency Initiative is combining the forces of the I’m Just Me Movement, the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley, the Northwestern Community Services Board and the Warren Coalition to create proactive programs and services designed to keep traumatized kids on the right path and avoid the pitfalls of drug and alcohol use, truancy, unplanned pregnancy and crime.

“Domestic violence is on the rise; we’ve got under-reported incidents of abuse,” I’m Just Me Movement co-founder Tina Stevens-Culbreath said on Thursday. “We have to have a more preventive approach to reaching these kids and their families. ... Oftentimes we have a more reactive approach: ‘Kids are getting into trouble so let’s do something.’

“It costs $148,000 to incarcerate one youth in Virginia,” she said. “Some of that money can be redirected to preventive programs.”

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Initiative will function as a trauma-informed community network that works with 25 other TICNs across Virginia under the Henrico-based organization Voices for Virginia’s Children, which was founded in 1994 as the commonwealth’s only independent, multi-issue child policy and advocacy organization.

“We are particularly focused on children whose needs are often overlooked, concentrating our efforts on policies in the areas of early childhood, foster care and adoption, health and mental health, and family economic security,” according to a statement from the Voices for Virginia’s Children website.

Stevens-Culbreath said a community can never reach its full potential if it only serves at-risk youth after they have gotten into trouble.

“We need to address the needs of our kids — things they are struggling with, things that are negatively affecting their lives,” she said. “Being more trauma-responsive and having an approach where we really dig in and help uncover those layers will help us reduce the number of kids who have adverse childhood experiences.”

“Avoid the problem before it becomes a problem,” added Stevens-Culbreath’s husband and I’m Just Me Movement co-founder, Rodney Culbreath. “Trauma, mental health — we have to move those things front and center. That’s where we need to be.”

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Resiliency Initiative is in the process of refining its mission and priorities, and Stevens-Culbreath said it should be ready to start introducing some of its potential solutions in April. Organizers are already recruiting mentors willing to work with at-risk and imperiled youth. Among those who have signed on so far are 13 students from Shenandoah University‘s criminology program.

“Collaboration strengthens and builds our community,” Culbreath said. “We can achieve more when we’re working together than when we’re just in our own silos.”

Anyone interested in serving as a mentor or volunteer with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Resiliency Initiative can learn more by emailing Stevens-Culbreath at tina@imjustmemovement.org or calling 703-344-6206.

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