For 26 years, an appropriate greeting if you walked into the Tri-Town Youth Services in Deep River was “Hi, Gail.” But no longer. After more than two decades, Gail E. Beck retired in January as executive director. Now the greeting should be, “Hi, Allison.”
That’s for Allison Abramson, who is the new head of the organization. Allison is also keeping the position she previously had as parent resource coordinator.
Allison is working to make her own community connections—”You know with a big transition like this, building relationships,” she says.
She is making time for conversations with everybody from her own board members to civic leaders. She would like to have more people know about the range of activities that Tri-Town Youth Services provides for varying ages from toddlers to teens. She is particularly eager for people to know about the youth service bureau’s counseling services, for both individuals and families.
Although there is a charge for counseling, Allison says there is a sliding scale for fees.
“We don’t ever want to turn anyone away,” she says.
At the moment, Allison says, the youth service is starting two programs for mothers with very young children, one for children under two and the other for those from two to three. For the children, the weekly sessions are for stories, play, and music. For the parents, they are a chance to meet and share in a relaxed setting while their children are occupied with activities.
Tri-Town Youth Services, she notes, continues to spearhead the local Drug Free Communities Program under a second five-year grant from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in coordination with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. The Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition is made up of representatives from 12 different sectors of the community including school, parents, businesses, and health care providers.
Teen programs in connection with Valley Regional High School include an ongoing peer leadership program and an orientation day before the beginning of school where freshman and peer leaders participate in group activities.
“It’s all about team building,” Allison says. “I attended last year and I was just blown away by how exciting it was.”
Allison points out that the bureau holds regular training sessions for would-be baby sitters and every year holds a one-session program for pre-teen girls and their mothers on the journey, both physical and mental, into maturity.
“It’s really popular, done with humor and knowledge,” Alison says. “Some mother wait to have ‘the talk’ with their daughters until they have gone to the program.”
Recently, the Youth Services Bureau has been involved in the Juvenile Review Board, an effort encouraged by the State of Connecticut to provide alternate solutions to minor delinquent acts that might have landed a teen in juvenile court. According to Allison, the board is made up of volunteers from law enforcement, schools and community.
The aim of the Juvenile Review Board,, Allison says, is to have the young people understand the consequences of their acts and the harm they caused, and to work out a way to make reparations for their actions, including apologies to those who have been harmed.
Allison came to this area four years ago, when her husband Michael took a position with a minor league baseball team, then the New Britain Rock Cats, now the Hartford Yard Goats. He is vice president of sales and marketing. The couple met at the University of Rhode Island, though Allison is a New Yorker by birth. She comes from the Hudson Valley town of Coxsackie, which she says translates from the Native American as “hoot of the owl.”
At college she majored in environmental management and worked afterward in community-based education on water quality, often with non-profit groups. Her experience led to her to earn a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, with a focus on the non-profit organizations.
She worked for the state of New York in the administration of grant programs for open space, and then as the grants manager of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. After the birth of her first child, she went to a smaller non-profit, also in Rhode Island, the Southside Community Land Trust.
With the birth of a second child, Allison left fundraising and began to explore, as she puts it, “different philosophies of parenting.” She studied to become a parenting coach through a program developed by Kim John Payne at the Center for Social Sustainability, and followed that by putting together parent discussion groups, often with Meadowbrook Waldorf School in West Kingston, Rhode Island.
Allison and Michael now have three daughters, the two oldest at Chester Elementary School. When the girls play basketball on weekends, they have a pretty good relationship with the coach: He’s their father.
Allison knows working at the Tri-Town Youth Service Bureau, often with teens, presents challenges, particularly in 21st-century world of lightning communication—including email, Twitter, and Facebook. She thinks it is important for families to talk about how and when and where use of devices like cell phones is permissible.
“It can be a difficult conversation to have, but there have to be rules and agreements,” she says.
At its most basic, Allison says, the answer to managing new media remains an old one: Parents and children have to learn how to talk to each other—and not by cell phone.
For more information on the programs of Tri-Town Youth Services, visit www.tritownys.org.