SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Santa Maria is offering more resources to at-risk youth in the city. The Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center is now in the national Safe Place network.
“I'm very proud today to help designate this as a Safe Place network," said Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday. “It's really important that the kids know there's a place they can go, because quite often they have no place to go. Maybe they go to a friends house and deal with another set of parents, who maybe don't know how to deal with the issue.”
The Safe Place designation means a one stop center for resources.
“[It] is a great place for teens who may be feeling like they're in a crisis situation," said Dennis Smitherman, recreation services manager with the city's Recreation and Parks Department. “Anything from mediation, to counseling, to just learning alternatives. But it also could mean getting a youth out of a home [where] a parent is hurting them."
A year in the making, the city partnered with the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley to convert the Abel Maldonado Youth Community center into a resource destination.
“I do know it's a problem and a lot of young people leave and it's not reported, or underreported," said Edwin Weaver of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley.
The Safe Place in Santa Maria is one of the only locations on the Central Coast now equipped to help at-risk teens. Before Monday, the closest runaway shelter was in Santa Barbara.
“But that's a 70-minute car ride and a lot of young people don't want to go there. So it's nice to have something local where they can respond immediately," said Weaver.
Weaver said the new service may also serve as an alternative for vulnerable families, like the immigrant community.
“There are families in our community who don't necessarily want to get involved with government agencies because of our political climate, and so here's another way.”
Teens can text the word 'SAFE' and their current location to '4HELP', or 44357, for immediate assistance.
Fire stations in Santa Maria are working on getting the Safe Place designation, too.