“We are so deeply rooted in our community. Briarpatch Youth Services celebrates 50 years

A small group of volunteers met in 1971, concerned for the well-being of the many runaways in the Madison area. They began to seek funding from collaborative partners to create a place for runaway children to get appropriate shelter, counseling and referrals to help the family resolve their conflicts. With this, Briarpatch was born.

This Thursday, Briarpatch Youth Services, which offers a wide range of services to runaway, homeless and at-risk youth whose mission is to strengthen the lives of young people and families, will celebrate its 50 years with a golden anniversary.

“We serve around 3,000 children a year. I think when we looked at the data we have served about 50,000 children over the past 50 years. We are the only organization in Dane County that has a homeless shelter and provides services specifically for our homeless youth, ”Gloria Reyes, CEO of Briarpatch, told Madison365. “So it’s really unique and so important because it’s a very quiet community. They often go from house to house, regardless of who will take them in, and this is not always a good situation. Briarpatch is an important organization to ensure that we invest in our young people early to change their trajectory in the future and to ensure that we lead the way for them.

“When we invest in it, it is an investment in our community, the City of Madison and the County of Dane,” she adds.

Briarpatch Youth Services has a laid back evening for Thursday’s big celebration at the Brassworks building at the Goodman Community Center with speakers, music and appetizers.

Briarpatch Youth Services group photo. Photo provided.

“We will have our board members and staff there, as well as supporters, partners and community stakeholders. We will be hosting an awards ceremony in honor of those who have supported, influenced and guided Briarpatch over the years, ”said Reyes. “It will be a time of reflection – where we have been for 50 years, but we will also use this time to look to the future. Where do we see Briarpatch in the next 50 years? “

Although she is relatively new to Briarpatch – Reyes was appointed Executive Director in October 2020 – she says she really delved into the history of the organization as she prepared to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

“I have learned a lot over the past year preparing for our 50th anniversary event. We rummaged through old books and notebooks from people who have written over the years, ”she says. “I learned that Briarpatch started in the 1970s with the increasing number of children fleeing their homes and having nowhere to go. There were a handful of leaders in our community who said, “This is a real problem. They took in children and made them stay at home. “

Today, Briarpatch offers programs focused on restorative justice, street awareness and intensive supervision. The restorative justice program aims to provide youth who have committed an offense other options rather than going through a formal juvenile process of receiving a ticket. The street awareness program encourages community and school workers to engage with young people and meet their needs

“It has changed over the years. The challenges in the lives of our young people have changed. It’s not what it was in the early 1970s. The needs have changed over the years, ”says Reyes. “Briarpatch has had to evolve and change with the needs of our young people over the years and we continue to do so.”

November is National Runaway Prevention Month and with that in mind, 300 green flags were lined up on November 1 along Rimrock Road, representing the 300 homeless youth of Dane County each night.

Reyes says Briarpatch is excited about a recent $ 2.5 million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Homeless Youth Demonstration Program (YHDP).

“It was a great opportunity for Briarpatch and we were delighted to have been chosen to do this job,” said Reyes. “The HUD grant assigns us amazing tech support experts. They have done it in other cities and they understand the best practices. This process will allow us to develop a system of support services for young people under 18 and young adults between 18 and 24 years old.

The YHDP grant enables the community to take advantage of the funding that Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway committed in the 2022 capital budget to develop permanent housing to serve young people coming out of the foster care system foster homes and who are at risk of homelessness.

“We will engage with youth and other partners in our community to identify gaps in support services,” Reyes said. “From there, we then come up with projects in the areas we want to invest in and make the decision based on the whole planning process. Then we move on to the implementation phase and that’s when the projects start to work.

Reyes says Briarpatch will also hire a project coordinator and a youth project coordinator who will work together to plan the process and bring stakeholders and young people together to identify gaps in our current system.

Throughout its 50 years, Briarpatch has developed a variety of important partnerships in the community while remaining committed to helping the youth and families of Dane County.

“These collaborations and relationships are so important. Wherever our children are – especially in our schools – we have established strong partnerships with Madison School District, Sun Prairie School District and Waunakee School Districts and other Dane County school districts, ” Reyes said. “That’s where most of our references come from and that’s where our children are. It is so important to have these strong partnerships with school districts and other organizations across the city and county and other non-profit organizations.

“We are also an organization open to new ways of serving our youth based on what we learn from listening to our youth about supportive programs and services,” she adds. “We have evolved and we continue to evolve.

Reyes says she looks forward to speaking and hearing from the Briarpatch family and supportive community members at the 50th anniversary event.

“One thing I learned when I started here is that there are so many people in our community who have come here or who have themselves received some kind of help with Briarpatch or who have brought their children to Briarpatch, ”says Reyes. “I received many calls from people, sometimes professionals in the community, who said to me: ‘At one point in my life, I needed the services of Briarpatch when I was a child. We have impacted the lives of so many people over the years and it’s so great to see them now and hear their stories.

“We are so deeply rooted in our community and I love the way we have built that trust and established relationships with the people we collaborate with. We serve our youth. I am really excited about the future of Briarpatch, ”she adds. “We just completed our Briarpatch strategic planning and it’s also exciting. I think in the next 50 years we will have to navigate the new territory of COVID and the impact it has had on our young people. Going forward, I think we’ll really need to invest in our staff to make sure they’re ready to serve a much more vulnerable population than we’re used to. “

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