Building Brighter Futures for Local Teens Through Youth Initiatives

NVFS helps develop local youth by providing them with the support network they need to succeed.

Teenage years can be challenging, to say the least; many of us probably remember ours with varying degrees of fondness. But there are many teenagers in Northern Virginia who have experienced far more challenging circumstances than we will ever encounter, including exposure to violence, separation from their family and isolation in a new community.

NVFS’ Youth Initiatives programs help these teens build healthier well-being through trauma-informed, holistic services designed to reduce family and community violence and provide at-risk teens with the tools they need to establish healthy relationships and build a brighter future.

“Youth Initiatives programs are designed to help a young person have the supports around them that they need in order to recover from their exposure to violence and become healthy, safe, contributing members of their community,” shares Meredith McKeen, director of Multicultural Center and Youth Initiatives. “All of the programs involve asset development and follow a youth development model, so goal setting is an essential component. Each young person picks their own goals, and works with their counselor on achieving those goals and finding their strengths, in addition to the services that focus on mitigating their unique risks and vulnerabilities.”

Our impact can be seen in the relationship-building skills, confidence and mental well-being of our clients. See how we’re helping local youth and the difference we’re making in both their day-to-day lives and their future.

“VPIP has made me realize things are OK. The abuse is not my fault. I conquered the fear of my perpetrator. Without VPIP, I’d probably still blame myself and not have any hope left in me.”

Many of the children served through NVFS’ Youth Initiatives are incredibly vulnerable — whether on their journey to Northern Virginia or in their current living situation. As a result, they’re more susceptible to violence, both personal and as a forced bystander.

“It’s hard to capture how serious and impactful these kids’ exposure to violence is,” McKeen notes. “Even if there’s no exposure to gang activity, by making the journey that they make, they are witnessing friends or family members being hurt and not being able to intervene. Just having to sit there right next to somebody who is being assaulted is a really big burden for a 9-, 10- or 11-year-old.”

Programs such as NVFS’ Violence Prevention and Intervention Program (VPIP) help provide the case management, mental health services, and group and workshop support these children need to retain a healthy mental state and begin to rebuild their path to future success.

“I learned how to get closer to my son — especially with the difficulty of the teenage years. I learned to better understand him and listen to his problems, and how important it is to listen. Pay attention to even the smallest thing that has happened.”

Family Reunification is an important part of NVFS’ Youth Initiatives services to help establish stronger bonds between the children we work with and their families.

“Although the young person is identified as the primary client, a lot of the work we do is with their parents or other family — whoever they have in their life — so that they are able to support their child effectively,” says McKeen.

By strengthening family relationships, our clients experience more stability at home, and are less inclined to act out or make poor choices. Outcomes include improved school performance and prevented or reduced gang involvement, as well as a decreased risk of human trafficking.

“Before my IPE counselor came into my life, I thought my life had no meaning. But now I believe it was the best thing that has happened to me.”

Kids in NVFS’ Youth Initiatives programs often feel alone in their new community. There’s a lot to adjust to — new friends, new food, new music, new language — sometimes without their immediate family members with them for support. This feeling of isolation can be overwhelming and draw these kids toward groups or activities that are dangerous and destructive.

“When we do acculturation workshops, the way we approach it is to acknowledge that every single thing is new for these kids, including their families and their homes. It’s hard enough to learn a new language and new rules while also trying to fit in at school and at home, without the support of known friends and familiar surroundings,” McKeen notes. “For many recently immigrated youth everything is new, and therefore nowhere is restful; nowhere is safe or comfortable at first, so they are working hard in every setting and every aspect of their lives when they first arrive.”

School can be especially difficult, as some of these children may not have been in school for a while, depending on where they were living previously. Intervention, Prevention and Education (IPE) counselors work with our local school systems to help these kids acclimate to their new environments, both at school and at home. Our counselors provide the support and guidance they need to create a brighter outlook for themselves and connect with their local community.