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Drop-in center for at-risk youth opens

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Life has not been easy for Jazmine Grajeda, 19, the third-eldest of eight children born into a Santa Fe family.

When she was 5, her mother went to prison and her father sent her to live with her grandmother. Several years later, her mother got out of prison and was able to get custody of her children again.

“But for the next eight years of my life, my parents were unable to provide me with the consistency and stability that I needed in my life,” she said.

At age 14, she says, she was kicked out of the family home. She subsequently dropped out of high school after one semester.

“I began working to support myself, and at the age of 16 I got emancipated. Then at 17, I gave high school another try, and I will get my diploma in May.”

Grajeda tearfully related her experiences Monday during the grand opening of Albuquerque’s first drop-in center focusing on mental and behavioral health support and prevention. She was one of a group of young people who helped to design the program, called Youth BLAST, for Building Lives Around Self Truth, operating out of the Johnny Tapia Community Center at Wells Park, 500 Mountain NW.

New Day Youth and Family Services will oversee the day-to-day operation of the drop-in center, while a host of community partners will provide specific on-site services throughout the week.

Grajeda said she was able to overcome her past and set and reach new goals with the help of staff members at New Day and at Health Leadership High School, where she is a senior.

“There are many other Albuquerque youths who are going through similar challenges, and with Youth BLAST, they can receive the support they need to succeed,” she said.

The Youth BLAST pilot program is being funded for two years by $300,000 from the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Initiative, a voter-approved tax. The city of Albuquerque is donating space in the community center to house the program, which will operate each Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from noon to 7:30 p.m., said Ali Moore, director of the Community Connections for New Day Youth and Family Services.

The drop-in center is geared for young people ages 16 to 22 who “are in transition from adolescence to adulthood,” Moore said. “It is intended to take away all barriers that prevent young people from gaining access to support services and meaningful youth opportunities,” including the resumption of their education and exploration of employment and career possibilities.

Young people, she said, can get services without needing a formal referral, insurance or a custodian’s or a parent’s consent.

Just as important, Moore said, the facility is a much-needed, all-inclusive safe place where young people can go to meet one another and have a sense of belonging. The facility will provide snacks and a kitchen to cook food, and it will maintain a donation closet with school supplies, personal hygiene products and survival gear, such as sleeping bags, for homeless youths.

Young people, including Grajeda, were involved in every component of program development and determining what strategic partnerships would be beneficial, as well as influencing policies and procedures, Moore said.

Among the community partners are Pegasus Legal Services for Children; Warehouse 508, offering art and literary programs; Centro Savila, providing bilingual case management and therapeutic services; University of New Mexico Truman Health Services, delivering sex education and HIV and Hepatitis C testing; and Street Safe New Mexico, which does outreach for exploited women who live and work on the streets and are in need of safety planning.

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