Serving youth more strategically

For several decades, the Petaluma community has made service to at-risk youth one of its top priorities, with many thousands of volunteers and contributors giving generously of their time and money to programs and agencies designed to ensure that children are given every chance to thrive and succeed. But despite this huge and enduring commitment, hundreds of Petaluma children continue to fall through the cracks every year, often winding up in criminal street gangs, juvenile hall or worse.

Now, a promising new strategy, developed by the Petaluma Community Foundation, is showing strong potential to help more local kids avoid getting into trouble. Dubbed “Stronger Together,” the goal of the new initiative is to coordinate strong collaboration among various youth service organizations, and use strategically targeted grant funding to maximize the potential of reaching more children with the services they need.

According to Petaluma Community Foundation Executive Director Marilyn Segal, it’s difficult for cash-strapped and perpetually understaffed nonprofit organizations to reach their full potential by operating alone. By collaborating with other groups that have similar goals, they can become stronger and more effective in reaching the kids who need help. By working together, they can also avoid duplicating services, and instead work to complement one another.

To achieve that, Segal has pulled together a unique and exciting partnership of eight non-profit groups who have begun working together at the Cavanagh Center on 8th Street near McNear Park. Last month, city officials approved an agreement with Mentor Me Petaluma to manage and operate the run down facility which, for several decades, housed the Petaluma Boys & Girls Club, the go-to place for helping at-risk youth. Over time, the facility fell into disrepair and the club vacated the building in 2011. Since then, the city has leased the facility’s swimming pool to a nonprofit organization, with the remainder of the building remaining mostly disused.

Now, under the leadership of Mentor Me Petaluma Executive Director Deborah Dalton, the Cavanagh Center is beginning to undergo a renaissance aimed at restoring its role as a central hub for educational and recreational activities to improve the lives of vulnerable children and teens in the community.

To help make that happen, one partner, Rebuilding Together Petaluma, has begun recruiting volunteers to begin renovating the facility with $15,000 in grant funding provided by the Community Foundation to purchase new kitchen appliances and other equipment. Eventually, Mentor Me expects to rent out the facility’s commercial kitchen and gym for community events, thus helping provide a more stable financial footing for the organization.

Segal envisions the Cavanagh Center one day providing a host of coordinated youth services by partner organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties, North Bay Children’s Center, Daily Acts, Sunny Hills Services, Petaluma Small Craft Center, and Free Bookmobile of Sonoma County.

The possibilities for developing new synergies benefitting Petaluma kids are endless.

But achieving this lofty goal will take money and lots of volunteer efforts, and that’s where you come in.

You can start by volunteering with Rebuilding Together to help renovate the Cavanagh Center.

Or you could sign up as a mentor to work with at-risk kids through Mentor Me Petaluma.

Or consider making a donation to the Petaluma Community Foundation, at petalumacf.org, earmarked to the Stronger Together fund aimed at helping at-risk kids in Petaluma.

Youth gangs and juvenile crime are serious problems we see every day in Petaluma. Why not make a difference in preventing such crimes by helping kids before they get into trouble?