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New Grant Funding Could Help Youth Programs in Arkansas

The state is seeing a drop in the number of kids in juvenile detention centers, and the Director of Youth Services says now is the time to change that.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - It's summer break, but Hiram Sumlin, or coach as the kids call him isn't letting these kids take any days off.

It's time to design roller coasters in stem class at Life Skills for Youth.

"We hope the life skills we teach they will be able to take them away."

Other days they focus on managing anger, time and money.

It's one of 21 youth programs awarded federal grants to arm Arkansas kids with skills to navigate the real world and avoid the judicial system.

"I look at these kids and know I could have been one of these kids because of where I came from. Poor, low income community housing," says Tracy Steele, Director of Department of Youth Services.

New director Tracy Steele argues Arkansas needs system wide reform.

"To prevent kids from coming into system anyway it's more productive, it saves the state money and it's better all the way around."

A lawmaker for 14 years, now Steele has a different view.

"Some of these kids have been abused, some are coming from a home where either one or both parents are in the department of corrections."

He says the state needs to shift resources toward prevention.

"We have to provide more opportunities and services to kids, like when I was growing up so kids don't get in trouble in the first place."

That's the goal at Life Skills for Youth.

"When they come back and talk to you and let you know that you did make an impact it keeps you motivated everyday," says Hiram Sumlin.

Where kids' schedules are too packed, hands too busy for bad behavior.

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