MEDFORD, Ore. — A local effort to keep local teens out of delinquency and gang activity has received a thumbs-up and grant funding from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).
The Keep Encouraging Youth (KEY) program describes a partnership between Jackson County Juvenile Services and two local nonprofit organizations dedicated to engaging at-risk youth in healthy outlets: Spartan Boxing and LIFE Art.
ODE's Youth Development Division awarded a Youth & Gang Grant to the KEY program of $50,000 for the past biennium, with the intention of helping to provide prevention and intervention services for youth between the ages of 6 and 24 who run the risk of disconnecting from school and work.
Located in Medford, Spartan Boxing was founded by Troy Wohosky — himself a former gang member. Wanting to turn his passion for boxing in a positive direction, Wohosky founded his own boxing gym to train young people while keeping tutors on-site to track his students' attendance, behavior, and performance in school.
"Academic engagement and success are required for participation in the boxing program," said Joe Ferguson, Deputy Director of Jackson County Juvenile Services.
LIFE Art has a similar mission, but with a different methodology. Years ago, school administrator Phil Ortega caught two young people spray-painting graffiti on his garage. When he asked them what they were doing, they told Ortega that they had wanted to paint something in honor of a friend who had recently died.
"He provided them with canvas and paint, and from there LIFE Art began," Ferguson said in a statement.
Like Spartan Boxing, LIFE Art was formed as a way for youth to focus and express themselves, this time through art. Participants are given free access to art supplies, space to work, and teaching in different methods. According to Ferguson, some local businesses have even commissioned pieces from youth involved in the program.
"Through this unexpected combination of community based programs, KEY is providing gang-impacted youth with healthy, positive and supportive opportunities for self-expression and personal development, and is building a true community of support for these young people," Ferguson said.
Under the grant, the two programs split $25,000 per year over the past two years. The current grant ends on June 30 of this year, but representatives plan to apply again.
On April 15, the local Gang Prevention Task Force will be presenting at the Oregon Nonprofit Leaders Conference in Ashland. Experienced members of the task force will share their stories, plus facts and figures about the troubled youth of Southern Oregon.
According to Jackson County Juvenile Services, a comprehensive survey found 16 active gangs in the area, with 95 percent of members falling between the ages of 13 and 25.
"Parent involvement, employment, job training, school programs, mentoring, and recreation programs are all effective ways to reach troubled youth," Ferguson said.