Families in South Santa Clara County are better equipped with preventative measures to handle issues involving youth crime and school violations thanks to a collaborative program led by the Gilroy Library, part of the Santa Clara County Library District (SCCLD). While world famous for its garlic, this community of nearly 60,000 located just south of Silicon Valley has some of the highest rates of juvenile arrests and citations in the county, largely stemming from gang activity in certain distressed neighborhoods. Local schools also have related significant expulsion and truancy rates.
To tackle this complex problem, the County of Santa Clara brought together its agencies that play a major role in the lives of local youth, including Gilroy Library, the Social Service Agency – Department of Family and Children Services, and the District Attorney’s Office. To ensure the community was fully represented, the South County Youth Task Force, a coalition of South County government agencies and nonprofit/community organizations, was invited.
The program they developed, in partnership with best practices from academic researchers, was titled Rise Up: Supporting At-Risk Youth. Gilroy Library was chosen as the host for most of the programming due to its availability seven days a week, status as a neutral and safe space, and its mission to help educate the community and provide services in multiple languages to all ages. The Gilroy Library is a recognized center of the community.
The program combined an array of services for different members of the family, to provide a positive impact on the developmental process of youth from birth to adolescence. With almost a quarter of the local community born abroad and nearly half of households speaking another language at home, mostly Spanish, cultural competency and bilingual content was essential. A grassroots curriculum developed by researchers at Santa Clara University entitled “Resilient Families,” was offered to Spanish-speaking mothers of children up to three years old.
To ensure community buy-in to the program and lasting impact, a group of local mothers was recruited to assist. Unrelated to the women in the program, these “madrinas” (godmothers) were trained to provide support and encouragement to young mothers. Upon completion of the mentorship program, the madrinas obtained the title of “promotora,” or peer instructor. Monthly family social gatherings were held to better connect mothers, their spouses/partners, and children to each other and to the madrinas.
For teens, programming was selected with significant input through community conversations with at-risk youth and their families. Rise Up collaborated with an ongoing “Late Night Gym” program for at-risk youth created by the City of Gilroy and the local nonprofit called Community Solutions. Staff from Late Night Gym were trained as program leaders to provide regular mindfulness sessions with attending youth. In addition, an array of educational and entertainment programs were created including outdoor family movie screenings courtesy of the Gilroy Library, cooking classes at a culinary arts school, and field trips were organized to destinations including the California Academy of Science, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Manresa Beach, sites of interest for local at-risk youth. The Gilroy Library also offered the 2019 Summer Reading program, including events and prizes for the completion of at least 5 books. This was all part of an effort to approach the needs of residents in a holistic way, following the Harwood model of youth engagement, a prestigious training program provided by the State Library.
Another participating group called “Project Parent,” focused on helping the families of four dozen youth facing truancy and delinquency issues, and teaching parents strategies to steer their children toward more positive paths. This twelve week course taught parents in gang hotspots how to end parent-child arguments, help their children improve their grades and school attendance, avoid using drugs, and stay out of gangs. Classes were taught in Spanish.
Lastly, a “Restore Leadership Program” trained nearly two dozen community leaders to work with at-risk youth, encouraging a unique approach for
living a mindful life. This sustainable program led by local organization Carry the Vision sought to create a new wave of leadership for the Gilroy community, who in turn would train other future influencers, and in so doing continue the progress being made.
In all, hundreds of individuals took part in Rise Up. Many had never taken part in a library program before, with the majority saying at the completion of the program that they had come to see the Gilroy Library as an important part of the community that could help them achieve a better future and avoid possible negative influences for their family members. They also expressed that they had learned something from their experience with Rise Up and they planned to apply this new information in their own neighborhoods.
The lessons from Rise Up are numerous. Including local youth and adults in the planning process for a community intervention program greatly increases its chance of being accepted and put into action by locals. Libraries are ideally situated to serve as a platform for community learning. Training community members to help amplify program messaging and recruit new generations of mentors creates the potential for long lasting and profound impact. Providing interventions at multiple levels of youths’ lives produces better outcomes, on average, than no or single focus interventions.
The ultimate impact of Rise Up may not be known for some time, but early indications are that the program is part of a positive change for South County. Rise Up has been recognized by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) with a Challenge Award, as well as CSDA with its 2020 Award for Innovative Program of the Year (large district).