Sydnea Scott has joined the Gustine Police Department as the youth services program coordinator for the grant-funded Mental Health and Programming in Schools initiative. Scott is pictured with Gustine Chief of Police Ruben Chavez.

GUSTINE - A grant-funded initiative to bolster school-based mental health services and provide community support to at-risk youth moved a step closer to implementation recently with the employment of a coordinator to oversee the program.

Sydnea Scott has joined the Gustine Police Department as the youth service program coordinator for the Mental Health and Programming in Schools (MAPS) initiative.

Scott, who was with a non-profit organization before assuming her new position with the city on Jan. 25, said she and a mental health clinician who will be placed in local schools will work with existing resources and staff members to implement the program.

She told Mattos Newspapers that the specific framework of the overall program is still being developed and brought into focus - but that she anticipates a broad-based approach which includes mental health and diversion components.

“By collaborating (with the schools) we are going to come together and hopefully (identify) whatever issues a student and their family may be dealing with that will cause adverse effects, and direct them to the resources that will assist them,” Scott explained. “The program is not solely about youth. It encompasses the family.”

She said she envisions the MAPS program involving multiple components, including counseling, Police Explorers, a community services club, youth sports, vocational field trips and creation of a youth needs pantry to help meet needs for food and school supplies.

“It will take a few months to form the full shape (of the program),” Scott commented. “Within a month’s time it has already come together to the point where we know the direction it is headed. I see this as a window into the future. This will give the students of this town an opportunity to see that there are other things beyond what they see right now; that they will be afforded opportunities. No matter what their situation is, there is hope.”

Police Chief Ruben Chavez previously explained that the program is intended to reach youth before they have entered the criminal justice system.

“This is a great opportunity for us to create a partnership between the Police Department, the school district and the mental health community to do what we can to provide the resources for our community and the youth,” he commented. “I am hoping to create a strong partnership with a lot of synergy to achieve the goals of reducing truancy, suspensions and expulsions, and diverting those individuals who might commit minor offenses in the school system into another program that will allow them to be more successful in the long run.”

Chavez said a three-year, $593,000 California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant through the Bureau of Security and Community Corrections is making the program possible.

The city must match that amount, Chavez said, which it will do with the assistance of a $100,000 commitment from the Legacy Health Endowment and in-kind services provided by city staff. For example, Chavez said, he and Lt. Sam Joseph will each dedicate four hours a week to the program, and the department’s school resource officer will dedicate 12 hours a week to the program.

The mental health clinician will be placed through First Behavior Health, Chavez said. City officials previously reported that Merced County Probation will also be a partner in the new program.

“The expectations are high,” Scott reflected. “We want to educate, assist and encourage the youth of Gustine to reach their potential, not just educationally but personally as well.”