Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Youth at Risk

In March of 1983 I was hired by the Babbie Enterprises Research Group to work with them on gathering data on the new Youth at Risk program, a program of the Breakthrough Foundation. Part of their work was designing instruments for assessing that data on a longitudinal basis. One of my jobs was interviewing kids in Oakland who were applying for admission to the Youth at Risk ten-day course. Being interviewed were leather-jacketed eighteen-year-olds whom I would not have wanted to meet on the street at night. There was a black girl of fifteen, a hundred pounds overweight, with an "I don't give a damn" expression on her face and a cigarette dangling from her mouth. We knew she did give a damn or she would not have been trying to get into the course. Sitting across the table from another applicant, a baby faced fourteen year old, I had the shock of my life when, in response to my question, "What did you do?" he replied, "Killed a guy." The course consisted of ten days in the mountains with, as in the Six-Day course I'd done in 1978, a strenuous physical activity program combined with classroom work designed to have the kids confront and acknowledge rsponsibility for their own lives. Werner led this first one. At the time, I questioned whether or not the course could do anything for these kids but Iwanted to see, so at the end of the ten days Rebecca and I went to FOrt Mason to meet the bus when they returned to San Francisco. The parking lot was filled with parents, social workers and people like 'Becca and me who were just interested in seeing what, if anything, happened. It was hard to believe that the youngsters getting off that bus were the same kids I had talked to in Oakland. The black girl had opened up like a flower. She jumped off the bus singing and ran to hug her mother. SOme of the toughest looking kids had turned into pussycats with grins. There was laughter and tears and the boys picked Werner up on their shoulders and carried him around the parking lot. I was in tears, then looked at Rebecca, hugged her and began laughing. It was nothing short o miraculous! from Reading Under the Covers: An Autobiography, by Elizabeth Goodell Russell