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‘Youth Day’ event helps families find positive activities for kids

Shatana Harris was born and raised in Columbia. As a mother of four, her priority is to keep her family safe.

She’s familiar with the city and familiar with its crime. She said she believes that crime is often committed by children and teenagers who have nothing else to do.

“Give the kids something to do here in Columbia besides just walking around and being bored,” Harris said. “If you’re bored you’re going to think of something to do and most of the time it’s not going to be the right thing to do. You’re going to cause trouble because it seems like fun.”

Harris got her wish at an event Saturday where different community groups promoted free activities to keep children safe.

Many of these community groups received funding from a 1/4 cent tax increase voters approved in 2012. The tax brings about $5.4 million into the county each year to provide care and resources for children.

Saturday’s Youth Day was the first event for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a national group with a local chapter in Boone and Callaway counties.

Since 2009, JDAI has worked to decrease the number of children in juvenile detention centers.

Group members said they’ve seen a lot of success with the programs they’ve implemented as alternatives to putting kids in detention, such as crisis intervention, shelter care and centers where kids can go to after school.

“Our numbers in detention have decreased dramatically,” said Courtney Pulley, Boone County juvenile supervisor.

Pulley said the organization hopes to show kids how they can positively contribute to the community.

“If we don’t help the youth they become adults,” he said. “Then if they’re adults that don’t learn those skills then it actually takes away from society and we want them to be able to add to society.”

Event coordinators said they want to reach out to parents and children before they have problems with behavior or crime.

“We wanted to be proactive in this regard and share this information so parents can access this to keep them from getting further in the system,” said coordinator Tara Eppy. “The younger we can start getting the services into the family, the less likely that they will come and need to be receiving services through the juvenile justice system.”

Now that the organization has let the community know about the services, Harris said it’s the parents turn to step up.

“This program today showed them that there are programs out there that they can be involved in that is free, but it’s up to the parents to get them involved,” she said. “A lot of this takes parent interaction. You have to be part of these children’s lives.”

The group recently received funding to create an access center in Columbia.

It will be a year-round central hub for parents to explore what resources can help them and their children.

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