Story by Sally Finnegan
According to the National Conference of State Legislature, “Youth age 12 to 17 are more at risk of homelessness than adults.” For the greater Stillwater community, that’s where Payne County Youth Services comes in.
Payne County Youth Services (PCYS) provides for Stillwater and communities across Payne County as according to their mission:
Payne County Youth Services, Inc., is dedicated to providing free quality services for the positive development and recovery of children, youth and families.
Headquartered in Stillwater, PCYS provides services from Foster Care, to substance abuse prevention programs, outpatient mental health and substance abuse counseling, alcohol and drug assessments, crisis response services, play therapy, and the recently added specialized EMDR trauma treatment.
Originally known as the Payne County Child Welfare Advisory Committee, Payne County Youth Services began as a group that provided Christmas gifts for children whose families could not afford them. When the community decided they needed a shelter and counseling in the schools, the organization developed, becoming what is now PCYS in 1972.
They saw the need and met it. “We can be flexible to meet the changing needs of the community,” Executive Director Janet Fultz said. The Emergency Youth Shelter acts as a short-term shelter; meaning youth ages 7 to 17 are able to stay for hours, days, weeks, or even months.
Now 45 years later, PCYS provides over 19 different services to 6 different school districts throughout Payne County: Cushing, Glenpool, Perkins, Ripley, Yale, and Stillwater.
Beyond in-school services, youths have the opportunity to participate in the Transitional Living Program for 16-24 year-olds. “There’s a ton of research of youth transitioning into adulthood—if young people have been involved in systems as a juvenile, if they don’t make that transition successfully there is a significant pipeline to department of corrections,” Janet said.
The Transitional Living Program provides stable shelter, counseling, and training in life-skills. Participants are required to engage in 30 hours each week pursuing high school diploma, GED, or life-skills training, as well as participate in counseling.
PCYS, a CARF certified, United Way agency, has a large breadth of recipients; serving kids from birth to 22 and all those connected to each individual. PCYS has a board of directors that advocate for community connections and activities. Other than private donations, civic groups, churches, and individuals, 40% of funding comes from the state of Oklahoma through the office of juvenile affairs and 2 federal grants.
“We can definitely stand on our quality of services as well as the breadth of our
services; because you can do a lot of things but if you don’t do them well, it’s kind of irrelevant,” Janet said.
There are 3 sections of service types that they do: residential, prevention, and diversion services.
Foster Care is one of those programs. PCYS recruit foster homes/parents, train and support them throughout the process. Because PCYS is community based, they are able help directly from here in Stillwater—available 24/7 with their 24 hour crisis line; “if something comes up, we are here locally” to provide counseling and family outings, Janet said.
PCYS is a first responder to schools; whether that be injury, car accident, suicide, etc., there is a response right away. At the end of November, PCYS began an outreach program for suicide awareness and counseling called 1-800-HOPE.
“[We’re working toward] building a competent community” around suicide prevention. The goal is to train people in community, because “you just never know what one interaction can be the one that causes someone to not harm themselves,” Janet said.
The various prevention and diversion services include a grief group, alcohol and drug prevention groups, as well as suicide prevention and awareness programs. For example, Stillwater Middle School allows PCYS to come into PE classes 1 day each week in an aim to expand true prevention programs.
The “Skills for Success” and First Time Offender programs originated to help at-risk kids avoid a path where one could more easily re-offend. Statewide prevention services ensure that only 4 percent of kids go on to re-offend, where as with PCYS prevention services, only 3 percent will go on to re-offend.
PCYS is Stillwater’s SafePlace local provider. That means they go out and solicit sites; train the staff of those organizations, provide signage; and give presentations on SafePlace to the schools they serve.
“We are very fortunate that we do have a lot of support from the community,”
from the Presbyterian giving tree and help from on-campus organizations to the Adopt a Family program, Janet said.
With the holidays approaching, Adopt a Family needs more contributors in order to add recognition for some families that have a lot of economic need or multigenerational structures that make caring for each member more difficult.
A staff member will sit with recipients and write a list of needs and treats for the kids. Being holiday time, it’s common for the Adopt a Family families to want to give a little more. Next to gifts, the program has expanded to beds, car maintenance, and general repairs.
Recently, a grandparent of six asked for a frying pan that’s big enough to make a meal for everyone all at once, but the donors decided to bring in a whole cookware set, a robe and some personal things for her. “The amazing thing about this program is not only [do] we provide the need for our families but a lot of our donors—I mean—as human beings we have a need to do these things,” Janet said.
Families will be matched with an Adopt a Family family, and remain anonymous throughout the whole process. If interested, email Angie Freeney at firstname.lastname@example.org and just say, “I want to help.”
This coming spring, PCYS will launch a social media campaign called 45 Days of Giving. The campaign will end in April with a Fundraising event with dinner and entertainment to thank and encourage donors who contribute to PCYS’s success.
When asked what three words would be most accurate to describe Payne County Youth Services, Janet Fultz said “Consistent. Quality. Response. We are what’s considered a truly ‘community based organization’, what that means is—obviously 45 years—we are in it for the long hall.”
If a family is interested in more long-term help, PCYS is always looking to recruit for the Foster Care Program. The state of Oklahoma provides for an average 12,000 of kids in state custody at any given time, and there is currently a huge deficit of foster care beds. Families will work exclusively with PCYS; through their child-placing license, PCYS does family training and placements directly.
Payne County Youth Services utilizes about 400 volunteers each year—individuals, OSU, civic groups—but could always use more. PCYS cannot fill these needs alone.
If interested in any of these programs—as a recipient or a contributor, please contact Janet Fultz at email@example.com.
You can find more information at http://www.pcys.org/services/ or at Payne County Youth Services Inc. on Facebook, or visit http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/homeless-and-runaway-youth.aspx for more statistics on homeless and runaway youth.