Finding yourself: Nevada County’s Youth Collaborative hopes to ease the transition from teen to adult |

Finding yourself: Nevada County’s Youth Collaborative hopes to ease the transition from teen to adult

Gem Ward, of Grass Valley's Alliance for Workforce Development, shows the wall of hot jobs where job seekers, including youth, can search for local job openings.
Elias Funez/

Nevada County’s Youth Collaborative — a group of local nonprofits who identify and work with programs and services aimed at supporting at-risk children and youth — recognizes that making the transition from teenager to adult can be one of the most arduous times in a person’s life.

With age, a person must abandon a life of relative irresponsibility. One of the expectations of becoming an adult is that a person will grow up in numerous ways, and take on an independence most haven’t experienced until that time.

The needs of young adults vary, and the Youth Collaborative offers many resources and organizations designed to help those entering adulthood find their way — and themselves.


Navigating the transition between youth and adulthood can be trying. It can be especially difficult for those living with a disability.

Ana Acton, executive director of FREED Center for Independent Living, said the organization’s consumers vary in age from infants to senior citizens, but the goal remains the same: to help those with disabilities enjoy a more independent existence.

A disability resource and advocacy center based in Grass Valley, FREED serves its consumers regardless of the type of disability, so there’s no disability-specific criteria for obtaining services.

Acton said that the organization offers a range of youth services and are committed to helping those in the 18-25 year age group seek and maintain independence and freedom.

“It’s an interesting time because youth have been in school during the day and suddenly they’re transitioning out of school,” said Acton. “So there’s often a lack of a plan of what that person’s going to do during that time of day when they normally would have been in school, especially if you are talking about youth with disabilities.”

Acton said that for many in their late teens and early 20s, the questions arise: are they right for an employment path? Are they right for college?

“I think there’s kind of a cultural low expectation around disabilities,” said Acton. “So there’s a lot of youth who don’t realize their potential, especially with a disability, around employment and independent living. It can be quite the transition.”

With that in mind, Acton and her staff have been implementing a new youth transition program, focused on those in the 18-24 age group. She said that with the passage of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, an emphasis has been placed on ensuring there is continuity and a way for youth to go from high school to independent living with service providers there to support them along the way.

“What we are finding is that we want to connect with youth when they’re still in school,” Acton said, “because that’s where you find people. Once they graduate, how do you find them in the community (before) they might be struggling with something?”

As part of the implementation of its youth services program, Acton said FREED is setting up activities with schools, teaching disability history, disability pride and disability rights. Next, they will start working within the schools where they feel they can reach their target demographic in a preventative approach.

“We have a whole range of services that are focused on the individual, to help people with their goals,” said Acton. “It’s very broad what we do, but those services are really focused on helping people live, work, and play in the community.”


Part of becoming an adult is realizing a person must join the workforce in order to support themselves and to be contributing members of society.

The Alliance for Workforce Development recognizes the unique needs that those ages 18-25 often have. Serving adults and youth clients, the nonprofit offers adult mentoring, career and life guidance and planning, job search and placement assistance, study skills training, tutoring for basic life skills, vocational training assistance and work readiness preparation.

In addition, the alliance assists with internships and on-the-job training.

Gem Ward, youth career advisor for Alliance for Workforce Development, said there are a number of challenges specific to the 18-25 age range when it comes to entering and maintaining employment.

“Common barriers for those participating in the youth program include having not completed a high school diploma or equivalency (or) basic skills deficiency,” Ward said. “Some are facing homelessness or are a runaway, are or have been a foster youth, are pregnant or parenting. Some have a disability — physical, mental or intellectual — or require assistance to complete their educational goals.”

Ward added there are regional barriers that some 18-25 year olds face in Nevada County. For example, rural housing with limited or no access to public transportation, housing shortages and limited educational options, which the alliance can help address.

The organization’s youth program is available to those 17-24 years of age, while its adult program has no age restrictions. Services are free of charge, and the options are plentiful.

“A client who would benefit from our services is someone who is motivated to change,” said Ward. “They may know exactly what they want to do, but aren’t sure how to get there, or maybe they are confused about next steps altogether.”

Either way, she said, Alliance for Workforce Development can serve as an advocate and assist in referring to community resources, career assessment and assistance and post-secondary education.


Despite a person’s education, employment, or socioeconomic status, some young adults find themselves in violent situations or relationships. This can create obstacles in developing a healthy sense of self-worth.

Community Beyond Violence (formerly Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault coalition) in Grass Valley seeks to help those who have survived violence to forge a healthy path forward.

Stephanie Fisher, interim executive director of the nonprofit, said the years between one’s late teens and mid-20s presents challenges in gaining a sense of self.

“Developmentally, it’s hard because you are treading that line between adolescence and adulthood,” said Fisher. “You’re learning how to be your own individual and you’re also trying to be a critical thinker. I think that age range in particular deals with a lot of identity issues, trying to find out who they are, and it’s hard to do that when you’ve just been given all this freedom you didn’t have before.”

Community Beyond Violence offers an array of services for people of all ages, including a 24-hour crisis line, emergency safe housing, crisis counseling and safety planning, support groups and therapy.

Legal advocacy is also available so if a person is in a situation where they need a restraining order, the organization can help fill out proper applications and accompany clients to court as well.

Fisher said the staff is not mandated reporters while in offices, something she hopes will encourage those in need of help to reach out.

“We hope it offers them a little bit more opportunity to be vulnerable with us and let us know what’s going on,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t think things should be reported. Sometimes we come across situations where we think it should be reported and law enforcement should get involved. In situations like that we’ll empower the victim and say, ‘here are your options.’”

Communities Beyond Violence receives approximately 89 percent of its funding via grants, and staff members have completed comprehensive state and federally mandated training.

“Our philosophy of working with victims is what we call trauma informed,” Fisher said. “We’re empowering our clients and our survivors to make the decision as to what’s best for them rather than us telling them what they need to do in order to make the situation better.”

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

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