Supervisors and YCS Expand Support for Young People


“It’s tough out there.”

SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors earlier this week approved additional funding for Youth Community Services (YCS) to expand its critical substance use and suicide prevention work. The funds will allow YCS’ Youth Connectedness Initiative (Youth Connect) to reach more young people in the North County. Youth Connect is an afterschool program that connects high schoolers to peers and adults who can support them, and provides workshops and volunteer projects to help young people grow and thrive.

“These are tough times for young people and their parents,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who serves as Chair of the County’s Health and Hospital Committee, and who first proposed County support for Youth Connect in 2018. “There’s a tremendous need for preventative mental health services for our youth; fortunately, Youth Community Services has a unique model that brings services directly to kids. The Youth Connect peers aren’t strangers; they are trained peer leaders. Young folks want to connect with peers they can trust.”

Youth Connect protects teens and adolescents from the many risk factors that can harm their mental health. The program helps build positive relationships, social connectedness, and community engagement among youth, peer leaders, and adults. YCS created Youth Connect in 2017 in response to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epi-Aid Suicide Prevention Report, the California Healthy Kids Survey, the Developmental Assets Survey, and the Project Safety Net Community Survey findings. Supervisor Simitian and former Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman were earlier supporters of the program and helped secure funding from the County and the City of Palo Alto to develop the program.

“By pooling our resources with the City of Palo Alto and the County, we have been able to do so much more,” said Mora Oommen, Executive Director of Youth Community Services. “We have connected young people directly with peer leaders their own age. Our peer leaders have hosted in-person workshops, undertaken service projects, and produced educational videos that amplify youth voices.”

High schoolers are under growing strain and pressure that can lead to substance use and suicide. But help is available. In addition to programs like Youth Connect, the County is collaborating with local schools to combat the rise in youth fentanyl overdoses by getting Narcan, a life-saving overdose medication, into the hands of parents and educators across the County. The Santa Clara County Opioid Overdose Prevention Project (SCCOOPP) has worked with community partners since 2015 to help reduce opioid overdose and deaths in Santa Clara County. Over the last five years, this effort has resulted in the distribution of more than 10,000 Narcan kits. In September, the County approved $135,000 to purchase 28 Narcan kits for each high school in the County that wants one.

County funding for YCS comes from grants the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed in 2021. Initially $150,000 was approved by the Board of Supervisors in May of this year, but the Board voted this week to increase the allocation to $225,000 so YCS could expand to more communities and run its program through June 2023.

As a former Palo Alto school board member, Simitian says he’s mindful of just how important these projects and relationships can be for young people’s well-being. “We can’t expect kids to be resilient all on their own. For a lot of them, it’s tough out there. There is help, though, and we need to let folks know about the programs and services available to them.”

Compassionate support is available for anyone is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, or just needs to talk. Support is free and available 24/7. Dial 988. If you have an area code other than 408, 650 or 669, call 800-704-0900, and press 1, to receive support in Santa Clara County. If you are a San Mateo County resident without a 650-area code, call 650-579-0350.


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