CHESTERTOWN — Potential partners for the fledgling Reconnect for Life initiative in Kent County filled the firehouse meeting hall here Monday, a turnout that pleasantly surprised the organizers.
John Queen, a program coordinator for Reconnect for Life, said it was invaluable to be able to speak to representatives of numerous nonprofits at the same time. “This is networking,” he said.
“I was really happy with the turnout. There are a lot of organizations here that can help kids,” Queen said as what was advertised as an RFL Partner Event was wrapping up in the early afternoon.
“The more we can get people to know about this, the more partners we can get, even partners that we hadn’t thought of,” said Christopher Benzing, executive director of the Maryland Rural Development Corp.
Through funding that originated with the Governors Office for Children, every county in Maryland that has a Local Management Board can select a program that focuses on what have been described as “disconnected/opportunity youth” — young males and females between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not working or are not in school.
The Maryland Rural Development Corp. hired Queen in August to identify Kent County residents who meet the Reconnect for Life demographic and to help them access resources.
Landing a job, returning to school, finding an affordable place to live — these are desired outcomes for program participants.
A one-year state grant of $70,000, which ends in June, pays for Queen’s salary and incidentals such as transporting youth, attending events and assistance to partnering agencies, Benzing said.
On Monday, Queen made new partners and reaffirmed others.
Chesapeake College’s Janet Hilty, transition specialist, and Brenda Horrocks, intake assessment coordinator, talked about the programs that are available including adult education and English as a second language.
Kent County Parks and Recreation Director Myra Butler, who also identified herself as vice chairman of the Local Management Board, was enthusiastic about becoming a partner with Reconnect for Life and hosting events at the community center in Worton. She said she would explore the possibility of creating programs that would benefit the RFL demographic.
Pamela White of the Democratic Club of Kent County said services her group offers, including voter education and voter registration, “are very important, especially to people who are disenfranchised.”
Kent County Arts Council Director John Schratwieser said he was there to see what partnering opportunities were possible. “As a nonprofit,” he said, “our job is to help individuals.”
Jamie Williams, economic development coordinator for Kent County, said she was there to support the work of Queen and the MRDC.
Jackie Adams, executive director, and librarian Annie Woodall spoke about the free access to many resources that the Kent County Public Library has to offer.
“We’re a unique partner because of the arts and social services programs and the community space we have,” said Woodall, who is an LMB board member. She said that the library has three locations in Kent County — Rock Hall, Galena and its headquarters in Chestertown.
Robbi Behr and Jodi Bortz, who helped establish the Support our Schools grass roots advocacy group, explained how SOS works as a resource for parents as an intermediary to the Board of Education and school principals. Behr also identified herself as a creative artist and entrepreneur, while Bortz said she had a lot of experience helping people land their first job.
As introductions continued, Lisa Mazingo, director of the Kent Family Center, said her organization was the first to partner with Reconnect for Life. The nonprofit offers adult education, coordination of services, employment training and parenting skills.
Amanda Fry, a senior educator with Echo Hill Outdoor School, she Echo Hill is now seeing its third generation of Kent County youth. It’s a relationship that she said the organization wants to continue. There are paid internships and job opportunities, Fry said.
Bayside HOYAS co-founders Paul Tue and Pierre Tue, Shelly Edwards of the Kent County Department of Social Services, a representative from Community Mediation Upper Shore, and peer recovery/community outreach specialists Rachel Goss and Rani Gutting also spoke about what their organizations could bring as partners with Reconnect for Life.
Four women enrolled in the program also introduced themselves.
Benzing said the plan would be to bring more of the program’s participants to a follow-up meeting that would be held in the early spring.
“Today was important to get the word out and make introductions,” he said.
Benzing said 38 youth have signed up for the Reconnect for Life program in Kent. About half that number are “active,” which he defined as having contact with Queen at least once a week.
The plan as outlined by Queen is that he ultimately will select 10 from the original pool of 38 and walk them through the process and make sure they are successful moving forward. Then he will start again with a new pool of about 40 youth.
The immediate goal, he said, “is for them to trust the process, to trust me, as we work toward accessing resources. It’s one step at a time.”
In what Queen described as a “Crisis to Thrive” scale, there are five levels: crisis, vulnerable, stable, safe and thriving. He said “most of the kids we are meeting are at the crisis/vulnerable level.”