Providing Youth Advocacy and Career Services during COVID

Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) was founded in 1971 to provide a constructive alternative to juvenile hall for runaway and at-risk youth. Their formula incorporates three pillars: housing, counseling and career.

This month’s HERO is Dawnn Montgomery, a Career Services Specialist + Housing for SAY. She has worked for the non-profit agency based in Santa Rosa since April 2019. Her position at SAY allows her to provide immediate response to youth in crisis who experience homelessness, extreme trauma, and struggle with moderate to severe mental health issues including substance abuse.

Dawnn supports clients who are cultural and socioeconomically diverse who are in short-term and long-term housing programs with immediate needs to reach employment and educational goals. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Dawnn’s early priorities were to quickly focus the services for everyone currently involved in the program, especially as job insecurity would be on the rise.

“Like most of us, we didn’t know how long this was going to last,” said Dawnn. “So early on we took a targeted approach to focus on our youth who may be experiencing gaps in their wages, assistance in information and tracking of stimulus checks, and help with unemployment filings and process.”

The ages of the youth primarily served by these programs are between 18-24. The career services focus is to begin by helping youth where they are at, obtain and sustain employment, and balance time management and positive patterns to maintain their work schedules. They also work to develop life and career skills, such as conflict resolution and management, and asking for raises.

One upside, Dawnn shared, were so many essential jobs were still available and many in the programs were able to continue work. “We did have to switch gears and prepare them for online interviews over Zoom. Our mock interviews went all online, so we were really able to move quickly,” shared Dawnn. Santa Rosa Junior Community College provided laptops and wifi for SAY.

“With the support they get from SAY, so many of these youth have been very resilient during the pandemic, working hard through the issues and barriers COVID brought,” reflected Dawnn. “We have all been on the same page – even with our skeleton crew. SAY also has been able to retain all employees and manage the new safety precautions, such as wearing masks all the time.”

“We are making a difference to our community. It is so worth it,” said HERO Dawnn.

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