Youth services picking up momentum

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Kristin Mabrouk, director of Naugatuck Youth Services, speaks with Skyla Starziski, 11, last week at the Naugatuck YMCA during a break in the program called Girls on the Run. The program works with pre-teen girls on confidence and physical fitness. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Kristin Mabrouk, director of Naugatuck Youth Services, speaks with Skyla Starziski, 11, last week at the Naugatuck YMCA during a break in the program called Girls on the Run. The program works with pre-teen girls on confidence and physical fitness. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — The future of Naugatuck Youth Services was unclear a year ago as borough leaders questioned whether they wanted to fund the long-standing municipal department.

Worried about having to close its doors for good, the Youth Services board decided to stop operating as a town department. They turned the organization into a 501c3 nonprofit. Board members say they shifted their focus from a mostly clinical family counseling organization to a youth advocacy and programming group.

Six months after hiring a new enthusiastic director, borough native Kristin Mabrouk, Naugatuck Youth Services is once again active in the community and has a clear purpose — to improve the lives of thousands of young people.

Since September, under the leadership of the 29-year-old Mabrouk, Youth Services 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.

That’s just the beginning, said Mabrouk, a 2004 Naugatuck High School graduate who has a master’s degree in community psychology and program development from the University of New Haven. She hopes to improve the youth experience for everyone in Naugatuck.
“One thing I want to do is enhance our mentoring programs,” she said. “I really think that in Naugatuck there are a lot of adults who care about youth in our community. And there are a lot of youth who really need positive adults. They just haven’t connected yet.”

Mabrouk said she formed the mentoring program between high school and middle school boys after high school students filled out a survey saying they wished they knew a little more about what high school would be like before they got there. For example, she said, some boys lamented that they wished they learned earlier how to properly treat girls and that “freshman year sets the tone for the rest of high school.”

On the juvenile review board, Mabrouk said the group is seeing more cases than it has since its inception about five years ago. Since the beginning of the school year, there have been 32 cases brought before the board. That number, she believes, does not necessarily mean more teens are getting into trouble.

“I just think the community is utilizing the board more and everyone is collaborating more,” she said.

When teens are brought before the board, they usually have to sign a contract stating they will do community service, write reports to learn more about what they did and why it was bad, and whatever else the board deems appropriate. If they don’t follow through, the case is referred to court. Of the 32 cases this year, only two have been referred to the judicial branch.

Four students whose cases went through the juvenile review board are now working at Hidden Acres Therapeutic Horse Riding Center in the borough. They are learning how to work around the stables and how to build trust with the horses, Mabrouk said.

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, who works with Mabrouk on the juvenile review board, said she loves what she is seeing from the new director.

“I think Kristin is doing a phenomenal job,” Rossi said. “Her enthusiasm and her real earnest desire to do right by our students and youth in the community is remarkable.”

Rossi is also involved in the running program Mabrouk has started. It is part of a national, nonprofit organization called Girls on the Run. Twenty local girls are pairing up with adult female mentors for 24 lessons, which incorporate social, psychological and physical training skills training and ends with a 5K run at the end of the session. Mabrouk plans to make that an ongoing program.

Currently, that group meets at the Naugatuck YMCA. Several of the programs Mabrouk runs are held away from the Youth Services headquarters on Scott Street. She has plans for the building, as well.

Mabrouk is looking to bring a more vibrant feel to the building, and last week, she spoke with a Naugatuck High School art teacher about incorporating student artwork into the building.

“I’m thinking of a coffee house type area where kids can come between 2 and 6 p.m., do homework, play the guitar, whatever,” she said. “I’d love for this to be a place where kids feel comfortable hanging out and having a good time.”