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Pennsylvania Youth Center program reaches across generational lines.

The Montgomery County Youth Center in Norristown, Pa., has crossed all generational lines in an effort to provide effective treatment opportunities and relationship building experiences for youths.

Using creativity and local resources, the center has created programs that enable residents, ages 10 to 18, to learn from the experience of local senior citizens and the innocence of young children in their Foster Grandparent and Teens and Tots programs.

The center is a true multipurpose facility. It houses a secure detention facility where youths are held awaiting adjudication and disposition as well as a courtroom in which the juvenile court judge hears all cases involving children.

Attached to the building, but separate from the detention center, is a shelter housing abused and neglected children placed by the Office of Children and Youth and status offenders placed by Juvenile Probation. These youths live at the Youth Center shelter temporarily while awaiting alternative placements or a return to their own families.

Foster Grandparents

In an effort started in 1992, local senior citizens volunteer as role models, friends and teachers' aides for youths housed in the secure detention center. The Foster Grandparent program assigns a senior citizen to one of three classrooms located in the educational area of the Youth Center, where all residents must attend school daily, throughout the year. While the classroom teacher is responsible for overseeing the class as a whole, the foster grandparent focuses on one-on-one activities with individual students.

Foster grandparents might provide individual tutoring, assist with specific school assignments from a student's home district, administer educational testing or oversee a youth's involvement with education software. Outside of the classroom, grandparents form relationships with individual youths as they interact socially with residents during meals, recreation periods or special activities.

Currently funded by ACTION, the federal volunteer agency, and sponsored by the Family Service of Montgomery County, the Foster Grandparent program involves three grandparents each volunteering four hours daily, five days a week.

The Youth Center provides training, a nutritious daily meal and free transportation to and from the center. Family Services of Montgomery County also provides an hourly stipend, an annual physical examination and accident insurance.

"The program benefits both groups of people, who are often isolated from the mainstream of society by their special circumstances," said Donald W. DeVore, the center's executive director. "It emphasizes the natural pairing of the young and senior citizens by providing older adults and special needs children with the means to reach across the generations to give love and companionship to each other."

The Foster Grandparent program was modeled after a similar program in Bexar, Texas, that has been in operation since 1985.

Teens and Tots

In another effort, youths temporarily placed at the Montgomery County Youth Center's shelter are given the opportunity to learn parenting skills firsthand by working with young children. Through the Teens and Tots program, up to 12 youths at the shelter are matched with children from the Montgomery County day care facility, "The Children's Place."

Prior to visits to the day care center, about every other week, shelter residents discuss various parenting techniques, including basic child development, infant care, selection of a caretaker, child safety and discipline.

Residents also participate in classroom discussions designed to allow youths to gain valuable insight into their own positive and negative childhood experiences and their relationships with their parents.

Residents regularly "rate" their own parents in a variety of categories and then consider, based on what they have learned by direct interaction with the children, how they might respond in similar situations. Shelter staff believe these discussions often provide the additional therapeutic benefit of allowing teenagers to more objectively evaluate relationships that are relevant to their own present situations.

Shelter residents may work with infants, toddlers and preschool age children and often participate with individual children in regular day care activities such as drawing pictures, coloring, singing and performing puppet shows.

In addition, the Teens and Tots have teamed up for events such as holiday presentations at the Montgomery County Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center, lending a multigenerational flavor to the programs.

"The program works on so many levels. The teens are learning parenting but the kids make them feel good too," said Kevin Gentilcore, the Teens and Tots program initiator and a teacher at the Youth Center. "A lot of our students haven't had positive experiences with parenting. We want to interrupt the cycle so they will do a better job as parents. Plus, each group is also helping to improve the other's self-esteem."

For information on either the Foster Grandparent Program or Teens and Tots, contact David DeVore, Executive Director, Montgomery County Youth Center, 540 Port Indian Road, Norristown, PA 19403; (215) 631-1893.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Maniglia, Rebecca
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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