Escondido youth who need help completing their court-ordered terms of probation have new opportunities to succeed through an Achievement Center.
The Achievement Center offers probation-referred youth between the ages of 14 to 19 an after-school program that includes academic tutoring, work readiness training, career exploration, sports recreation, group and individual counseling, case management, mentoring and follow-up services. It even includes transportation to and from the center, a snack and dinner.
It is one of several new and innovative programs that San Diego County juvenile justice partners have collaborated on to divert youth from detention and instead provide them with rehabilitative services in their own communities.
“Our goal is for Achievement Centers to help young people maintain positive community support, complete their education, and learn about new, lifelong opportunities,” said San Diego County Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales. “Similar programs in other states have shown success in guiding youth toward completing Probation and going on to lead crime-free lives. That’s what we want for our young people.”
The San Diego program got its start in 2018 when then Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar led an effort to research and develop an after-school rehabilitative program model for the region’s Probation youth . San Diego County Probation worked with the District Attorney, Public Defender, Health and Human Services Agency, Juvenile Court and community partners to adapt the program to our area. The Achievement Centers are located in Escondido and Southeastern San Diego, two areas with larger concentrations of justice system-involved youth to better serve them.
The program costs approximately $1 million to operate both centers and is being funded by the state’s Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act and County Probation.
“As a County, we have made meaningful investments to transform the culture that surrounds our regional juvenile justice system,” said County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. “The opening of the Achievement Center here in Escondido is an example of the fundamental shift we have taken as a region to invest in and rehabilitate youth who are at-risk for returning to juvenile hall.”
In Escondido the program is run by the Escondido Education COMPACT, a nonprofit youth development and youth workforce development program. The Achievement Center in downtown Escondido has been operating since Sept. 1 but held its grand opening for the community Tuesday.
Mayor Paul McNamara presented a proclamation to the Escondido Education COMPACT for their efforts to support the program.
“We hope the youth involved do well in the program and look back one day and realize what an amazing opportunity this was for them to have the services and resources and a caring group to help them along,” said McNamara. “We believe this program will make a difference in the lives of the participants who fully take advantage of the rehabilitative services which include counseling and building them up in other areas.”
Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter echoed McNamara’s sentiment that he welcomed the program.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Is this going to be a good thing or a bad thing for our community?’ I’m going to tell you right now, this is the best thing that’s happened in a long time for this community because we have to invest in our youth,” Carter said. “We cannot arrest our way out of this. We have to do something different. This is something different, and we need to invest a lot in this to make sure this happens.”
Currently 15 young men and women are enrolled in the program but another seven are pending registration, according to Patricia Huerta, executive director for the Escondido Education COMPACT. The program can manage 25 youth at one time.
Services are provided from 3 to 7 p.m. Program operators report participant progress back to Probation to ensure youth are attending the program and fully participating in the services offered.
“The Achievement Centers represent a critical piece in the juvenile justice system’s alternatives to provide safe, effective, and proven efforts to address youth needs in the community, not in detention,” said Gonzales. “Achievement Centers are an investment in the youth we serve through Probation and in the neighborhoods they live in.”