GUSTINE – The city of Gustine was recently awarded a nearly $600,000 grant from the California Board of State and Community Corrections to fund a program which will offer school-based mental health services and provide community supports to at-risk youth.
The California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant funds will launch the Gustine Mental Health and Programming in Schools Program to address and reduce violence among at-risk youth.
“This will be a huge benefit to the school district and the city,” said City Manager Doug Dunford.
The city is partnering with the Gustine Unified School District, Merced County Probation Department, First Behavior Health Urgent Care Center and Legacy Health Endowment, which is contributing an additional $100,000 to support mental health services.
Dunford said the partners and the city’s grant writing firm began working on the proposal early this year.
“This is something that we have been lacking for some time,” Dunford commented. “We can help with some of the mental health issues we have here, especially within the younger generation.”
The program includes placement of a mental health professional in local schools.
Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, said he was excited by the opportunities the grant funding will provide to better meet the mental health needs of local youth.
“Our school counselors are not mental health clinicians,” he pointed out. “Our kids are dealing with issues ranging from anxiety to depression and anger. Each year we are seeing more and more incidents and issues involving students who are depressed or have anxiety. We have really been wanting to have a mental health professional to expand our services, but we haven’t been able to fund that. When the city came to us with a grant, it was an awesome opportunity.”
The program will be modeled after one which Gustine Police Chief Ruben Chavez created when he was police chief in Livingston. Gustine’s program will include implementation of formal diversion and restorative justice practices, and establishing a 16-week education vocation program in which police will serve as mentors and engage with youth in non-enforcement activities.
“Youth may experience trauma at home, school and the community, and we want to understand this trauma when applying interventions designed to turn teen missteps into opportunities to grow and learn,” Chavez commented. “Our goal is not to punish youth because of circumstances or missteps, but to help them learn from mistakes and discover strengths.”
“We are grateful for this funding and what it means to our community. This award will allow Gustine to implement youth-focused, evidence-based interventions that are desperately needed among our youth,” said Dunford, adding that city leadership is committed to improving services, opportunities and quality of life for all residents.
“Every member of our community is valued,” he added.
Grant acceptance was on the Tuesday night City Council agenda.
The council was also asked to approve a job classification for a youth services program manager. That new, non-sworn position will be under the auspices of the Gustine Police Department and will staff the Youth Services Bureau that will be created with the grant funds.
Dunford said the grant funding runs from Oct. 1, 2020 through December 2023.