Vicksburg-Warren County Youth Development Center holds open house event

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Warren County residents Friday were able to get an early look at the Vicksburg-Warren County Youth Development Center and meet representatives of agencies that will be working with the center.

Dr. Susie Calbert, the center’s executive director, said the center, a joint project by the city and county to address youth violence in the community through programs to help troubled youth, opened Aug. 1 in the former Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce building on Mission 66.

She said a formal ribbon-cutting will be held at a later date.

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“We’re waiting on our computer lab to get set up,” Calbert said. “So once the computers are installed, they will have a ribbon cutting open to the public.”

Calbert is one of a three-person team working at the center. Artracia Brown serves as the center’s parent liaison and Vicksburg police officer Orlon Smith is the youth liaison officer.

Brown said her job involves working with the parents to ensure their child is referred to the proper agency.

“Mentoring, mental health, just tutoring programs; whatever avenue we need to take to make sure we are serving them the way they need to be served because there’s a need,” Brown said.

Smith serves as the liaison between the juveniles and the police department.

“We’ll be on the police department keeping up with the kids; the number of kids that come through (the department), making sure that our police department, the department at the school are trying to steer the kids the right way as well it’s what I used to do when I was a juvenile investigator,” Smith said.

Calbert said the Youth Development Center serves as a centralized location for youth and their families looking for assistance in addressing problems.

“We can assess the family’s needs and we refer them out to all the great organizations that we have here to provide services to families, kind of like a clearing house,” she said.

Calbert said the center is working with education consultant Dr. Ashley Parker Shiels, who has been doing an asset map of the community “to see what are the gaps here in the community and what services we have available in the community” and has also been working with the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Calbert was named the center’s executive director in June and has been contacting the area’s community agencies “letting them know that we’re here.

“We’re here to help and serve them in any way and have the capacity to get the families out to their agencies,” she said.

Before becoming the center’s executive director, Calbert was the Warren County Youth Court guardian ad litem coordinator. She also worked for the 9th Circuit District Attorney’s office and for nonprofit organizations.

The youth development center was the recommendation of a committee appointed by Mayor George Flaggs Jr. to look at solutions for youth violence in the city and county. Flaggs announced a crackdown on youth violence and appointed the committee in the wake of the Jan. 30 shooting death of 13-year-old Carleone Woodland.

The committee recommended a plan to place existing social services in the community for at-risk youths and their families at a central location to better communicate with each other and identify and address issues facing young children more effectively.

Besides funding from United Way, Champions, Vicksburg’s health literacy program, is applying for a $2 million U.S. Justice Department Office of Justice Programs grant spread out over three years for a community-based violence intervention and prevention initiative.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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