Youth center prepares for July opening

SILIVER SPRINGS - The rooms of the Western Nevada Regional Youth Center are slightly spartan right now.

Not that Director Lon Cook isn't trying to fill them up. It just takes time to fill a regional youth center with everything from beds and bedding to computers and chairs and trash cans.

The six-year project is almost ready and when finished will serve Carson City and Storey, Lyon, Churchill and Douglas counties.

Tucked off Highway 50 in Silver Springs, the small tan building has room for up to 29 young people -15 boys, 12 girls and two spaces for temporary detentions. The $1.25 million youth center is the state's first multi-jurisdictional treatment center, encompassing not only the five counties, but three judicial districts.

By the end of July, Cook hopes to have the building furnished, have the 22-person staff hired and have young people receiving treatment. The center needs everything from a licensed social worker to a food preparation worker. Cook received 186 applications for 10 counselor positions at the center, an encouraging sign that people are attracted to the program, he said.

The youth center is seen by many regional juvenile officers as a youth drug and alcohol treatment center. But Cook said the facility will focus not on just one problem facing a child, such as a substance abuse, but on all the problems the child faces.

"There is no such thing as a kid with just alcohol and drug problems," Cook said. "When you're dealing with a young person with lots of problems, you're dealing with a person who is intoxicated, either by alcohol and drugs or through problems. You have to detox them from alcohol or drugs or their thinking and decision making. They need to learn to be accountable for their decisions. We'll work together to solve the problems."

Cook said that problems leading to substance abuse need to be dealt with in a team approach if a child is expected to succeed after leaving the center.

The center will act as an early intervention program, offering a short-term (up to two months), intensive approach to helping troubled young people. Families are part of the treatment equation. The center's location "30 miles from everywhere" Cook said, is probably the best spot for the center, but could cause some problems as well.

"Here we've got distance," Cook said. "I think we're going to have to be on our toes to keep people involved."

Cook came to Nevada from a similar program in Portland, Ore. Cook's background stretches back at least 15 years working in both juvenile probation and mental health. He was looking for a similar program somewhere in the western states when he discovered the regional center.

"I found five counties looking for a way to help youth and families," Cook said. "With the competition for resources, you just don't see that. To find all of them working on one project, that's a rare success story.

"A success story waiting to happen," he added.

Although the center hasn't opened, Cook is the center's second director.

Steve Mathews was fired by the center's Operations Committee in December after an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The committee that oversees the center is composed of city/county managers and chief juvenile probation officers in the five counties. The committee had hoped to see the center open in April.

Despite the delay, juvenile officials are encouraged by Cook's work to get the center ready. The only other options for treating regional youth in a similar manner involved sending them to state facilities in Elko and Caliente, said Stephen Grund, Churchill County chief juvenile probation officer.

"The more you can involve the community with a delinquent youth and their parents, the better chance that child has of not entering the system at a later date," Grund said. "Instead of ending up at a state institution, we can deal with our kids at home. We will be the epitome of a small, regional facility being successful. That's what we expect."

The five counties will split the estimated $800,000 in yearly operational costs. Each county will contribute money for the first two years based on county student enrollment. During the third year of operation, each county will contribute 25 percent of their share based on student enrollment and 75 percent on how much each county uses the facility.


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