Shelton Youth Service Bureau engages and empowers local youth

Shelton Youth Service Bureau’s Silvia Rodriguez, a youth advocate, and Sally Schwaller, community outreach manager, in their office at Shelton High School. (Photo by Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn)
Shelton Youth Service Bureau’s Silvia Rodriguez, a youth advocate, and Sally Schwaller, community outreach manager, in their office at Shelton High School. (Photo by Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn)

The Shelton Youth Service Bureau offers many leadership and empowerment programs for young people.

Youth Advocate Silvia Rodriguez said teens constantly stop by the agency’s office, which is on the second floor of Shelton High School.

“They want to know exactly what it is we do,” Rodriguez said. “When this article is published, I’m going to post it on the window outside our office.”

Actually, Rodriguez and co-worker Sally Schwaller, who is responsible for the agency’s community outreach programs, enthusiastically encourage teens to stop in, no matter what the reason.

“A lot of them stop in for the snacks,” Schwaller said. “It’s a safe haven and a comfortable place to hang out. We’re lucky to be here at the high school where we have access to the kids.”

She describes the youth bureau as “hands-on.”

“Many agencies simply make referrals — and we do, too — but we do much more,” Schwaller said.

From family films to being advocates

In keeping with a longtime tradition, the youth bureau will sponsor “drive-in” family-friendly movies shown on a big screen at Veterans Memorial Park (the Riverwalk). Rodriguez said this is one of the many ways the agency engages local families in fun and safe activities.

Films are shown every Saturday evening through August. This week’s movie is "Hotel Transylvania"  at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 10.

At the end of July, Rodriguez led a group of high school students involved in Shelton’s Youth 2 Youth Peer Advocates to the organization’s national conference in Rhode Island. The teens paid for the trip by hosting several fund-raisers throughout the year.

“Whatever they learn at the conference they bring back to their communities,” Rodriguez said.

During the school year, the peer advocates learn life skills during weekly meetings. They are trained to teach a monthly health class at Shelton Intermediate School (SIS) and also mentor younger children weekly on a one-on-one basis.

“The kids do everything — they write the curriculum, they teach the classes, they’re at the school all day,” Rodriguez explained.

Youth 2 Youth Peer Advocates volunteer regularly at Spooner House, a homeless shelter in Shelton.

Students this year were responsible for hosting a Christmas party for the Spooner House’s youngest residents. They baked cookies with the children as well as served dinner to those staying at the facility.

Stressing prom safety

This spring more than 150 teens and their parents attended a Prom Safety Awareness program at Griffin Hospital.

Teens from several Valley high schools, including Shelton, are putting together two 90-minute public service announcements (PSAs) and a YouTube video on the dangers of driving while distracted.

Every October, the youth bureau sponsors its annual Trick or Trunk Night at Shelton Intermediate School. Families decorate their vehicles and pass out candy to costumed trick-or-treaters. Schwaller said about 2,000 children participated last year.

For tweens, ages 10 to 13, Rodriguez leads youth life skills classes at the Boys & Girls Club. During the weekly meetings, young people talk about bullying, stress and anger management and conflict resolution.

She and Schwaller traditionally take 25 local youth on a Wilderness Weekend retreat at Camp Jewel in upstate Connecticut.

“The kids go hiking, do wall climbing, camp out,” Schwaller said. “They also learn about leadership, teamwork and decision making.”

Those in sixth to eighth grade are invited to attend programs at Shelton’s Teen Center. Activities include dances, swim nights and open gym.

“We feel that the more you give kids to do, the safer they’ll be,” Rodriguez said.

How it started

The Shelton Youth Service Bureau grew out of the city’s Community Alert Program (CAP). Founded in 1986 by Schwaller and Leslie Miklus, two parents who were concerned about substance abuse, CAP sponsored several prevention, education and awareness programs.

Although CAP continues to operate under the Youth Service Bureau, the larger agency was created in 1988 to address all issues facing local teens.

“We saw that there was much to be done,” Schwaller said.

Both Schwaller and Rodriguez appreciate the support they’ve received from community organizations, businesses and city officials, including Mayor Mark Lauretti.

Working with many partners

The Shelton Youth Service Bureau has strong ties within the Valley region.

The agency’s partners are the Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley, Shelton Board of Education, Shelton Fire Prevention Bureau, Shelton Police Department, Connecticut Youth Services Association, Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, School Readiness Committee, state Department of Education, Statewide Prevention Network, Valley Council of Health and Human Services, and Valley Substance Abuse Action Council.

For more information about the Shelton Youth Services Bureau, call 203-924-7614 or email