NAUGATUCK — Allison Tortorici says that her experiences at Naugatuck Youth Services over the past year have changed her life.
“It has given me experiences to be more of an adult,” said Tortorici, a 17-year-old senior at Naugatuck High School. “I have worked with a lot of people in the community and done a lot of things I would never have imagined.”
Naugatuck Youth Services has undergone a dramatic overhaul within the past year. Naugatuck officials wanted to stop funding the organization, so it turned into a 501c3 nonprofit group and shifted its focus from a mostly clinical family counseling center to youth programming.
On Sunday, dozens of people from the community toured the facility to see the physical changes the NYS building has undergone and to talk to youth about how the new programs have impacted their lives.
Throughout the building, rooms that were once used primarily for counseling sessions are now occupied by dozens of teens who meet on a regular basis at the NYS headquarters on Elm Street for leadership classes, to participate in community service activities or just to do homework.
On Election Day, 18 students participated in a cleanup of the area around the headquarters and mulched a garden in the backyard.
Each month, programs are centered on a new focus area, Director Kristin Mabrouk said. This month is support, which includes how to help provide a caring school climate and positive family communications.
Over the past year, the organization has expanded its juvenile review board, a diversionary program that helps young, first-time minor criminal offenders avoid the judicial system.
It has formed a group that pairs preteen girls with successful women in the community to teach them confidence and self-esteem while helping them get physically fit. It has also formed a partnership with a local horseback riding organization to work with troubled youth. And it has established a mentoring program between high school and middle school boys.
Naugatuck High School sophomore Ellis Sadler said the program has been a good life experience.
“It gives me a way to get involved in the community,” he said.
And senior Dean Andrade said the program has filled a void in the community.
“I think a lot of times people feel left out because they may not play a sport, but this program has something for everyone,” he said.