Around 4pm on a Tuesday, teenagers joke around a pool table inside Seaside’s Youth Resource Center. It may seem like just a hangout spot, but it’s also a sign that Seaside’s efforts to curb youth violence are working.
“Peer pressure, family dynamics or trauma…you know it’s a whole number of things that can drive a young man or lady to start acting out,” says Ted Black, the resource center’s coordinator.
It’s a referral center for teens who are behaving poorly – things like missing class, fighting or worse. They are then referred to nonprofits that can help them, like Restorative Justice Partners, and sometimes to therapy. Since opening in 2015, the center has helped about 100 kids annually, Black estimates.
It’s not just Seaside investing in youth violence prevention. Salinas reports a 75-percent decline in homicides since 2015, and King City has won awards for its Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Violence.
As for Monterey County, they’re playing a supporting role too. “It used to be if a child committed crimes, they’d go through the system in the traditional process,” says Rosemary Soto, who oversees the county’s violence prevention efforts. “Now we’re looking at ways we can pause and look at youth as individuals.”
These efforts are recognized and shared at the county’s third annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference on Jan. 24, which brings together government and nonprofit leaders who are helping end youth violence.
At the forefront of the conference, however, are not adult experts – there are youth. The panel at the conference is comprised entirely of youth who have lived experiences of youth violence. “I go to these prevention summits and hear ‘experts’ talk, but when it’s kids telling their stories or performing, there seems to be the biggest takeaway,” Soto says.