Building a solid foundation: Youth Collaborative offers services to kids age 6 to 12 (PHOTO GALLERY) |

Building a solid foundation: Youth Collaborative offers services to kids age 6 to 12 (PHOTO GALLERY)

Jennifer Nobles
Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: In April, The Union introduced Nevada County to the newly formed Youth Collaborative. In May, we focused on organizations helping children up to 5 years old. Today’s story looks at 6 to 12 year olds with another story planned next month for children ages 13 to 18.

A group of local nonprofits, the Youth Collaborative identifies and works in partnership with programs and services aimed at providing resources in support of at-risk children and youth.

The group serves kids of all ages, but notes the age range between 6 and 12 years old can be especially formative.

As children reach school age, they are more able to understand the world around them. Children of this age typically begin to become more socially engaged with others, and further comprehend their role in their family.

Dena Valin Malakian, associate director of Youth Collaborative and member of The Friendship Club, said, “(Age 6 to 12) is when building self-confidence becomes important so they can start adolescence with a stronger sense of self and confidence in who they are and what they are capable of.”

The Youth Collaborative wants people to know kids who may be experiencing challenges have plenty of options for the guidance and support.


The YMCA, an organization dating back to 1844, is much more than a gym or the topic of a catchy disco song.

In fact, the YMCA is dedicated to the positive development of youth and healthy living in spirit, mind and body. In 2013, a group of local leaders met with the YMCA of Superior California to inquire how they could create a Nevada County chapter of the Y. The group eventually became the first advisory board to the Gold Country YMCA.

YMCA camp program coordinator Aurora Packard said the local chapter of the organization serves about 30-40 children each week of the summer.

“This summer, we are pleased to offer weekly camps (through) Aug. 10,” Packard said. “We provide lunch and snacks daily, and have a Y-Assist scholarship fund to help families pay for summer camp.”

The summer camps each have a different theme. The week of July 9 will be known as Invention Convention while the week of July 30 will have participants discovering their inner International Secret Agent.

The organization was recently on the receiving end of a number of contributions that were used in an effort to create a central meeting place for the YMCA’s summer programs.

“Because of the generosity of local businesses and individuals like B&C Hardware along with LINC, the City of Grass Valley, Williams Ranch PTO, and Citizens for Safe Parks, we are excited to announce we have created a summertime children’s community center in the Memorial Park Clubhouse,” said Packard.

In collaboration with other children-serving organizations and agencies, the YMCA hopes to expand its program offerings to year-round, and eventually open a full-service community center in partnership with the City of Grass Valley.

Everyone is eligible to receive services from the YMCA. Its camp serves children entering kindergarten through sixth grade (ages 6-12) and there are no county residency restrictions. The YMCA is open to referrals from outside agencies, although Packard said most people self-refer.

“We are exceptionally proud of the exemplary staff we have hired,” said Packard. “All are in or have graduated college, with two pursuing Master’s degrees in children and family related fields. Our program has grown recently, with dedicated staff and volunteers.”

Additionally, they operate a Leader in Training program for kids 13-15, and a Counselor in Training program for 15-17 year olds.

Packard said that the needs of children 6-12 are special and significant, as they are forming the ability to recognize their place in the world.

“There’s an ability to impact social awareness at that age because they are really receptive,” she said. “Six to 12 year olds identify with their peers and their community. This is the age of, ‘Where do I fit in? Why am I important? Am I valuable?’ The Y gives them a place where they will always belong.”


For 36 years, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Nevada County have been providing two types of mentoring programs: community-based mentoring and site-based mentoring.

The former entails adult mentors and their little brothers or sisters meeting three to four times per month for a period of about two to three hours each time, for a minimum of one year. Typically the two perform activities within the community, such as playing sports or enjoying time at the park. This program serves youth ages 6-18.

Site-based mentoring involves an adult or high school mentor going to the child’s school or other designated site once a week for one hour for a minimum of one school year. The two meet either during the school day or after school at the site, and engage in activities like homework, reading together, working on school projects, and arts and crafts. This program primarily serves children in first through eighth grades.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters operates and has found great success with the PAL Program in a number of local schools. An example of site-based mentoring, the PAL Program pairs high school students with an elementary or middle school child. They meet for about an hour per week.

“We try to get them while they’re younger,” said Big Brother/Big Sisters of Nevada County Executive Director Peggy Martin. “It’s more of a preventative program.”

Martin said many parents are busy juggling life’s many responsibilities, and that for a child to have someone spend uninterrupted time with them is a valuable component to a child’s development.

“The goal is to get to know the child and to explore what their passions are and what makes them happy in life,” Martin said. “The nice thing is they can get to know themselves as well as a mentor and figure out what makes them tick.”

In regards to the rigorous screenings and background checks, Martin said that the number one priority for Big Brothers/Big Sisters is the safety of the children.

The organization serves about 250 children per year, and is currently in need of adult male volunteers, with the waitlist for male bigs growing longer by the day. Martin explained that volunteers need to be at least 18 years of age with a clean record and the time to devote to being a “big.”

Martin said a child’s participation in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program isn’t necessarily indicative of risk at home. The agency stays in close contact with parents, and works with schools and other service agencies to determine which kids could benefit from having a mentor.

“We tell (parents), this isn’t something you are lacking or have done wrong,” said Martin, “but people are busy and the more support we can give you the better. We don’t want people to label the families. They aren’t bad.”

“I could totally see my son having a big brother because it’s so helpful to have an adult (around) that’s not your parent.”


The Youth Collaborative offers services and guidance to 6-12 year olds with varying needs through a number of different agencies.

Community Recovery Resources offers support with a full spectrum of wellness-focused programs to reduce the social, health and economic impact on families and children from all types of substance abuse and behavioral health issues. More info can be found at

PARTNERS Family Resource Centers engage and partner with families, educators, and the community to better support children’s development, create connections, and increase access to local resources. Visit for details.

Communities Beyond Violence offers many services for children and adults, including children’s individual counseling and group programs for the children of domestic abuse victims. They collaborate closely with local public and private social service agencies in Nevada County to make sure its clients have access to a full range of social services that may help them in their situation. Additional information can be located at

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at or 530-477-4231.

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