By Karette Fussell, PIO
Ventura Youth Correctional Facility
The holiday season at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) was inspirational, replete with unique and festive activities, moving many to reflect on the spirit of giving and achieving excellence through working with others including family and community stakeholders. During this holiday season the spirit of community among youth trumped divisiveness that sometimes stems from distorted thinking and preconceived notions projected onto others, especially within a correctional setting. The Integrated Behavior Treatment Model supports youth’s development of skills to communicate effectively which in turn builds their self- esteem and facilitates their ability to work with others to achieve a common goal.
Youth at VYCF embarked upon many events highlighting their ability to work together to achieve success while creating a stronger sense of community during this holiday season.
Rehabilitation through teamwork
A unit holiday decoration contest was held and youth from different backgrounds and varying ethnic backgrounds worked side-by-side all month long to create detailed holiday themed master pieces on all cottages. The winner, MC unit, transformed their dayroom area into a virtual log cabin scene with a moose head, chandelier, Christmas tree, Nativity scene and fireplace, all created with construction paper! On Dec. 16, the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) conducted “Santa’s Run” as they do every year, with one member dressing up as Santa as they visited each unit, judged the holiday decorating contest with Administration and sang Christmas carols to the youth. The CAC comprises volunteers from the community and provides over $25,000 of academic scholarships to VYCF offenders, tutoring services and the Story Book Project which allows youth to record stories for their children. Those books are sent home along with the recording to facilitate bonding. CDC unit came in second place and Alb and BV tied for third place. Youth seeing beyond negative social artifices and working together for the sake of achieving a common goal like winning the holiday decorating contest, better prepares them to understand and respect diversity which enhances public safety and reduces recidivism.
On Dec. 15, the female youth hosted their quarterly family reunification event by working together to transform the Visiting Room space into a winter wonderland with a photo booth, face painting station, cookie decorating station and picture frame decorating station. They also provided their family members with dinner that evening and were able to spend quality time bonding in a festive atmosphere with the objective of strengthening family ties for re-integration back into the community.
On Dec. 20, the female youth at VYCF celebrated transforming their counseling area into one of empowerment for women and held an open house to showcase high caliber artistry now displayed prominently on the walls throughout the SPC area. This space is primarily used for programming by the female youth at VYCF. Youthful offender Nunes, an artist, worked together with her artistic peers to revamp the SPC area into a colorful, vibrant, gender responsive sanctuary, conducive to growth and change for young women. Multi-ethnic images of strong, beautiful, accomplished women provide inspiration to all who enter this space of female empowerment. Future plans include inviting women of achievement for speaking engagements on a quarterly basis to share their story on how they have triumphed against the odds in their lives. The goal is to encourage our female youth to persevere and achieve success now and in the future.
On Dec. 22, students at VYCF’s Mary B. Perry High School showcased an exciting array of project-based learning assignments by displaying and presenting their projects on various subjects such as art, history, science, dance and others. Project-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered philosophy that focuses on students learning about a subject by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge or problem.
Family was invited to this event commencing with a dance project involving multiple youth working together, dedicating many hours of rehearsal to perfect their debut. Academic success is supported by the Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model as it is a key factor in facilitating successful community reintegration and reduction in recidivism.
Male and female students at VYCF worked together and successfully staged the fabled play “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” This production included scenery changes and musical numbers, all seamlessly orchestrated and performed by youth offenders with the support and guidance of teachers and staff.
During the holiday season, youth at VYCF worked together and demonstrated a spirit of generosity by raising money to donate to the Red Cross for hurricane and earthquake relief. Selflessly reaching out and lending a helping hand to assist others in dire need reflects the growth, maturity and positive decision making skills essential to being productive members of society. The youth are demonstrating they are poised for a bigger, brighter and better future through helping others, raising $852.93 from a population of 174 youth. Staff are seen as our greatest resource at VYCF, often going beyond their assigned duties to assist youth with innovative projects encompassing the principles of restorative justice like donating to the Red Cross. Teachers Annette Raschke-Tussey, John Johnson and Bruce McGowan and Parole Agent Robin Kamara are committed to IBTM, upholding the serious charge of rehabilitating our youth and were highly instrumental in facilitating the youth’s efforts in this successful fund raising venture by offering their support, guidance and encouragement.
Getting involved with churches
“The Joy of Christmas” was held Dec. 2 with the Alliance Bible Church from Paramount. The church, a multi-cultural congregation, came out with their 30-member choir to present an uplifting concert of Christmas music and testimonies for the youth in the Protestant Chapel.
On Dec. 9, local Churches from Ventura County gave generous donations. Our local stake holders Cornerstone Church of Moorpark, New Life Community Church of Oxnard, Calvary Chapel of Camarillo and Oxnard, Anthem Church of Camarillo, Blessed Hope Chapel of Simi Valley, Pleasant Valley Bible Church Camarillo, and Living Proof Ministries of East LA served a full barbecue meal to all youth and staff in the institution. The churches rallied 127 volunteers to serve the meal on the living units and then spent over an hour fellowshipping and encouraging the youth in a special celebration of the Christmas season.
On Dec. 17, local churches and protestant volunteers along with WOSMOH (Women of Substance, Men of Honor) distributed special Christmas gift bags to every youth in VYCF. The gift bags filled with goodies, stamped envelopes, and hygiene were distributed to the youth on each living unit while a special program of carols and encouragement was performed by the group of over 20 volunteers. A gift from administration included pajamas and hygiene items was given to each youth on Christmas morning.
On Dec. 21, the Catholic Christmas Celebration of “Los Posadas” took place at VYCF. Fifteen volunteers from local Catholic parishes come out and led a special celebration of Los Posadas for the youth. The services included the Posadas procession, a meal donated by local restaurants and bakeries in Oxnard and games. The evening was filled with lots of conversation and fellowship around what the volunteers described as a “family dinner table.”