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New face to lead BYS

Lois Lee signs on as director.

Bainbridge Youth Services has a new director, Lois Lee of Hansville, who brings 30 years experience in human services to the non-profit agency.

Lee is already exploring the possibility of adding an additional counselor in drug and alcohol assessments and guidance.

“It is my personal commitment to see kids break through the denial of their using (drugs and alcohol) and to at least understand the short- and long-term effects of it,” Lee said. “Kids should make an informed choice, and I believe they pay attention when provided the information in a straightforward way. They really don’t want to harm themselves or their minds.”

Lee, who replaces Geoff Ball, most recently worked as director of Habitat for Humanity for Snohomish County. She previously managed human services for the Suquamish Tribe, and headed the children’s department of Penninsula Community Mental Health in Port Angeles.

Founded in 1962, Bainbridge Youth Services offers free, confidential counseling and crisis intervention to local teenagers.

Located in Commodore Center, BYS is not a dreary waiting room for sullen teenagers. The agency offers a busy job referral service, with the walls plastered with fliers of local employers looking for help with babysitting, cleaning house, and farm and construction site chores. In most cases the pay is between $8 and $15 an hour.

“I just moved here from Renton, and I filled out about 30 job applications and heard nothing,” said job seeker Kyle Walker, 19. “Then I came here. This place has blessed me with work. I paid my $5 (to register) and I was working the next day. Now I’m here with a friend, so that he can find work, too.”

For the past five years, the agency has sponsored a unique education program, in which 10 high school students, the Youth Board, talk with younger teens about the consequences of drug and alcohol use, before they make the transition to high school. Each Youth Board member is responsible for researching the mind-altering substance that they make presentations about.

“The philosophy is that kids listen to kids more than they listen to adults, and that a talk about drugs and alcohol by their peers will have more impact,” said Kris Rogers, the group’s founder and facilitator.

The agency has been flooded with requests from students who want to be a Youth Board member. They group is diverse, with average students, athletes, drama and dance students, computer whizzes and student leaders in the mix.

Longtime counselor Merrylee Lord said many of the problems that afflict island teens are found in other affluent communities, where the parents are away at work and the children are left unsupervised.

“They have easy access to cars and alcohol,” she said. “There is a lot of pressure to succeed, with grades, in sports, with boyfriends and girlfriends. They go from being overwhelmed to being depressed.”

In addition to counseling teens who walk in because of a crisis, counselors meet with kids who have been referred by the courts.

Bainbridge Youth Services also works to encourage an ethic of community service. It is soliciting nominations for the annual “Kids with a Heart Compassionate Action Awards,” which honors youths whose good deeds and generosity have gone beyond what is expected of them.

“The idea is for the youth to get caught doing something good,” Lee said. “Today there is too much publicity for anyone who makes a mistake, and not enough for those taking the right path.”

Bainbridge Youth Services is funded by $175,000 in grants from the city’s Health, Housing and Human Services Council, United Way and county grants. It also depends on contributions through the “One Call for All” drive.

But the agency also raises funds for services in unconventional ways. Local teens earn money to decorate and pack gift baskets of mostly organic “Island Jams,” for shipping during the holiday gift-giving season. The jars of jam are also sold year-round at Town & Country Market. All the proceeds go toward BYS programs.

“I am really impressed with all that we are able to provide for free – free counseling, free job referrals, free help for employers,” Lee said. “That’s just neat.”

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