By Megan Dooley
After a long delay, the River Forest park district board decided last week to contribute its share of funds this year to the township's Youth Interventionist Program, which targets troubled young residents at risk for involvement in gang activity, violence, or drug use. But the board asked for a future review of the program in return.
In a letter to Gavin Morgan, the manager of Oak Park Township, which operates the Youth Interventionist Program, park district Executive Director Michael Sletten outlined the board's stipulations for continued funding. The first asks for more oversight in the program.
"The board feels that the Townships of Oak Park and River Forest should assume direct management responsibilities of this program," Sletten wrote.
The letter also called for program staffers to work individually with different partner agencies in both Oak Park and River Forest, including schools, local government, and social service agencies. This may include training seminars for identifying at-risk youth, dealing with bullying, conflict resolution, and more.
The final requirement stipulates that the program identify specific issues within the youth communities in Oak Park and River Forest, and take action in molding the Youth Interventionist Program to address these issues.
The 14-year-old youth intervention program has long been funded on a proportional basis by every local taxing body – schools, villages, libraries, park districts. The long delay in authorizing funding by the park district in River Forest has been unusual.
But Morgan said the delay didn't harm the program. He said the funding issue originally came up because the park district questioned whether or not the program fit in with its mission. But Morgan said program representatives have since made regular appearances at the park board meetings to discuss new ideas for programming and how to measure the success of the program.
"In all of those discussions we were able to answer the questions of our partners," Morgan said, and eventually, they came around.
Sletten said the total funding for the program contributed by the park district is somewhere around $4,000 – not a huge amount, he said in an interview Thursday.
"This isn't a money issue. It never has been," said Sletten. Instead, it's an attempt to improve the useful program. He added that the board is very supportive of the Youth Interventionist Program, which they consider to be a "great program."
Morgan said he's happy with the positive outcome, and believes it's fair to ask everyone to contribute.
"The strength of this program is the partnership," he said. "Through the partnerships, we understand what issues involving youth that the community is dealing with, what issues the youth are dealing with. We can reach conclusions on what the best way to deal with those issues is. That requires that partnership. In addition to that, it sends a message to the community that we're all in this together, that we all support this, and it enables all of us to hold each other accountable for the outcomes."
The park district board decision specifies that these improvements be implemented within a year.