CEO Gloria Reyes and Staff Celebrate Briarpatch’s 50th Anniversary: Adolescence Way Station

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Gloria Reyes became the CEO of Briarpatch Youth Services in 2020.

Part 1 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

Back in 1971, the ant-war movement was still going strong with regular marches down State Street. The counter culture was in full bloom with the campus area serving as its center. With a lot of social flux in the community, homeless and runaway youth, primarily Euro-American, congregated on State Street. And so Briarpatch was formed to give the youth safety — with some being temporarily sheltered in foster homes — and give them some direction in their lives. In some ways, Briarpatch was a way station on the turbulent journey through adolescence.

Briarpatch’s offices were located in a converted duplex and had a homey feel to it as the primarily Euro-American staff provided services including a 24 hour crisis-line as well as case management and some counseling. Its staff was committed to assisting the youth find a better way to move forward in their lives in a positive manner. In the last 50 years, while the staff continues to be committed to Briarpatch’s mission and values, much has changed. In July 2003, it merged with the Community Adolescent Program — whose core service was intensive supervision of youth involved with the juvenile justice program — to become Briarpatch Youth Services. And in 2014, it moved to a new facility it built on Rimrock Road complete with a nine-bed youth homeless shelter.

In November 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and when the organization began to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Briarpatch also got a new CEO, Gloria Reyes.

“It was a great opportunity to learn and understand the history of Briarpatch while celebrating our 50 years and being a new CEO on top of everything else with COVID-19, learning the organization and all of the complexity of trauma that COVID-19 had brought to our youth,” Reyes said. “It’s just been a crazy time, challenging, but yet an opportunity to reflect on our history and really celebrate what the community has done to support our most vulnerable youth. It’s also been an opportunity to really look into the future. What is next for Briarpatch for the next 50 years?”

Briarpatch has gone through a transition in terms of whom they serve.

“The young people whom we serve are predominantly our most vulnerable youth, youth of color,” Reyes said. “Our demographics have changed. We are serving our young Black, Latino and LGBTQ+ youth more now than ever. The faces have changed. The demographics have changed and the needs have changed.”

And with new faces comes an evolving approach to how you provide the services.

“Briarpatch is offering the same services essentially, but our community is changing,” Reyes emphasized. “The needs of our youth are changing. And so we really have to change the way that we serve our young people because of the changes that have occurred over the years. From what I have seen, the challenges and issues that the youth face are more complex. The trauma that they are overcoming is overwhelming. And as non-profits, we have to change with the needs of the community that we serve. We may have some basic services that we do all of the time, but the way that we serve and how we change programming to fit the needs of our young people is so essential for non-profit organizations.”

And the staff has changed as well.

“Now we have a lot of people of color working for the agency,” Reyes said. “50 percent of Briarpatch’s employees are BIPOC. We had to reinvent ourselves in order to keep up and to be of service to our young people. We had to keep up with the changing environment. And we will have to adapt to the future and the changing needs. Organizations who are able to adapt quickly are organizations that are able to last a long time within a community and grow. And we’re good at that. Organizations have to keep up with the changing needs of the people whom they serve.”

Next issue: Fostering Change