Hamilton County Youth Association
Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program operates under the authority of the juvenile court judge to step in early with at-risk students and connect them with local services tailored to their needs. Though a government-affiliated program, the big obstacle, however, is its complete lack of government funding. Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program’s solution is six volunteer boards (each with its own 501c3 designation) associated with geographical areas of Hamilton County that exist solely to raise funds and support HCYAP.
How to Maintain a Program with No Funding
Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program (HCYAP) seeks to work with at-risk kids, ages 3 to 17, by matching them with local programs and activities that break cycles of misbehavior. Working under the authority of juvenile court judges, HCYAP has access to records that independent youth programs do not, giving it a fuller picture of each student’s history and needs. HCYAP hires Early Intervention Advocates and, with the approval of the school district superintendent, the local volunteer board, the juvenile judge, and municipality, assigns them to work within the six designated areas within Hamilton County. The goal is to get involved with kids before they get in serious trouble; as such, ninety percent of referrals to the program are made by school guidance counselors who can detect early signs of future delinquency. Even so, participating in HCYAP’s services is not mandatory.
Tricia Akers, Director, explained, “Think of us as a concierge….The whole point behind this is collaboration. Let’s get out of these silos, we’re not having a competition, we’re just trying to help our kids as early as possible by bringing this all together.” Coordination of services, matching kids with doctors, centers, programs in their area that best fit their specific needs, is at the heart of HCYAP’s model.
What’s important to note is that HCYAP is not a non-profit, since it works directly with the Hamilton County Juvenile Court System. Also noteworthy is the fact that it has no budget since it receives no funding from the government. This means that HCYAP’s volunteers are crucial to its success. A unique aspect of HCYAP’s structure are its community boards of directors in Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton Heights, Noblesville, Sheridan, and Westfield, all six of which have a separate 501c3 status and were formed to financially support Hamilton County’s Youth Assistance Program and to set up mentoring and tutoring services in its particular location. These boards also serve as a support to the Early Intervention Advocates located in their area. These boards constitute their own separate non-profit organizations although existing solely to support HCYAP, which is not a non-profit. Tricia Akers, Director, emphasizes that they rely on in-kind donations and volunteers for every aspect of the organization: the website development, office space and supplies, computers, and marketing materials are donated by schools, municipalities, or raised by the volunteer board.
HCYAP has eight staff members, and as many as three hundred volunteers. For many of these volunteers, it’s about taking charge of one’s community and organizing to raise funds for the benefit of the community’s struggling students. Tricia admits that it is difficult to come up with numbers that demonstrate HCYAP’s impact. However, there is one significant stat that shows that Hamilton County is making strides in its efforts to curb student delinquency. In 2009, when HCYAP first started, 1600 kids entered into the juvenile justice system. Since then, there has been a 10.2% population increase in the area. Despite this, the number of students in the juvenile population has plummeted to 912. “I do believe that some of what we’re doing is working,” Tricia concludes—confident despite the consistent difficulties she has experienced with maintaining the tiny bit of funding they need to keep the organization going. Throughout its seven years, HCYAP’s model of using organized boards of volunteers that are connected to their local communities has been foundational to its perseverance in its important work.