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SPOON-FED:

We’re Lovin’: YouthConnect

Almost three years ago, YouthConnect became a Lovin’ Spoonfuls nonprofit partner. The organization connects young people who are in contact with the criminal justice system to social workers, who are able to support their clients with resources, including fresh, healthy food from Spoonfuls’ distributions.

Last fall, Spoonfuls’ Founder & Executive Director, Ashley Stanley, was especially honored to receive YouthConnect’s Partnership Award.

Recently, we caught up with YouthConnect’s Executive Director, Kevan Anthony Barton, to learn more about the program and how food access plays a part. 

Tell us about your organization! What is YouthConnect? What do you do there?

In January 2022, I stepped into the role of Executive Director! Previously, I was the Director of Operations. YouthConnect is a program of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston in partnership with the Boston Police Department (BPD). I have the privilege of leading a team of dedicated social workers who work with youth and families referred to us through the BPD. Our innovative model provides a holistic approach to supporting young people in making positive choices that reduce the likelihood of engagement in the juvenile justice system. YouthConnect places licensed clinical social workers directly in Boston neighborhood districts that experience high rates of crime. 
 
Now in its 25th year, YouthConnect addresses the distinct needs of Boston youth who are referred to us by police officers when arrested, become involved with other aspects of the criminal justice system, or display worrisome behaviors at home, in school, or in the community. By placing social workers in police stations to provide comprehensive mental health, advocacy, and intervention services, YouthConnect works to address the underlying problems and social emotional issues that contribute to juvenile crime and delinquency by working with the entire family, not just the youth. Since 1996, YouthConnect has assisted more than 17,000 youth and families across Boston.

In what specific ways has access to fresh/healthy food supported your efforts?

Partnering with Lovin’ Spoonfuls has allowed our program access to vital food resources that are delivered to our clients most in need. It is our belief that one must look at the whole person in order to make transformational change, and that includes meeting the most basic of needs. We know that if a young person is hungry, it impacts the lens through which they see the world: learning, mood, and ultimately, behaviors. Being able to provide this healthy resource to our clients allows us to not only ease food insecurity with dignity but also ensures that our young people are better able to focus on their goals! 

Thinking to one client/guest who has received food through your program, what does it mean to them to have healthy, fresh food?

Every client that has received a box (or two or three) has expressed such appreciation. They often say the food arrives right on time as it is often when they have started to run out of food for the month. For some of our larger families, this resource has been especially crucial. 
 
Recently when one of our social workers dropped off boxes of food rescued by Lovin’ Spoonfuls to a family, she was greeted by the very youngest daughter who was so happy to see the food that she asked to help carry some inside and then started dancing. The mother in this family shared that money is very tight as she is raising five children and “getting this food is so helpful to feed all of these kids – and they love it! A lot of times, it’s not something I would be able to get on my own.” 

Kevan Anthony Barton, Executive Director at YouthConnect
What has been the most exciting rescued food you’ve received? How come?

Honestly, all of the food has been amazing! I get such joy pulling items off of the truck knowing that our families will receive nutritious food that helps to alleviate hunger. The rising costs of food has meant that so many more families are facing food insecurity. In particular, I have been excited to see the variety of plant-based food and dairy alternatives. Often very costly, it is not an option for many of our families.  

What’s one thing you wish people better understood about young people involved in the criminal justice system?

Our young people want to succeed and they are often some of the most insightful, loyal, and talented people, yet often the most marginalized, underserved, or disconnected. Young people involved or at risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system are our children, siblings, peers, neighbors…community members! They want to be seen and know that they, too, matter.

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