A Public Service Profile on the Elements of Building Relationships by Chris Coudriet

Youth Intervention Specialist Elizabeth Covert, Lamonte Davis Program Participant, Program Manager Kristy Williams, Zay’Den Hansley Program Participant, and Youth Intervention Specialist Kaylee Hoyle

Every day, individuals make choices. Some can be as simple as choosing where to eat lunch or what clothes to wear. The choices can also be extremely difficult and have dire consequences. Sometimes it can feel like there’s no choice at all. For many young people in our community, this can mean choosing violence to meet a pressing need or to deal with conflict.

Since 2006, the Elements program, which is overseen by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, has used civilians serving in uncertified law enforcement roles to help young people understand that there are alternatives to violence, helping them build the personal, social and professional development skills needed to grow and move forward.

Kristy Williams has been with Elements since its inception, helping students in New Hanover County schools and their families connect with available resources to address needs and learn about alternatives to violence.

As part of the Community Building Plan developed and implemented in 2022, the Commissioners recognized the importance and effectiveness of this program and built it into their investments, expanding the team for the Elements program and allowing Kristy and her team to reach even more students and families in our community.

For this month’s public service profile, I asked Kristy about the work being done by Elements, the program’s recent growth, and her passion for helping people. That conversation is below…

What brought you to this career and this type of work?
Growing up, my closest family members had careers serving others. For them, work never felt like work – it was an honor and a privilege. I had great role models and the idea of ​​serving before me was instilled in me from a very young age. I knew I wanted to walk alongside others on their journey and be a light in times of darkness and difficulty, I just wasn’t sure how.

I started working in mental health in college and started my career in direct care. One day we had gang prevention training and my eyes were opened to another side of my family. It was clear after training that I grew up with a family member who stumbled on this road. I looked back and could clearly see the warning signs and my heart ached for the choices he had to make due to the adversities that life presented him with. I knew in that moment that this show is where I wanted to be.

Can you share what the Elements Program is?
Elements is a comprehensive, behavior-focused program within the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office designed to implement education, prevention, intervention, and diversion strategies to address the factors that cause and sustain youth violence.

We are currently serving youth ages 8-17 throughout New Hanover County. We work directly with youth, their families, school officials, law enforcement and community partners to initiate services with identified families in our community.

All participants in our program receive individual goal-oriented consultations throughout the month, as well as experiential group activities. Some of the group activities we offer are teambuilding games, horseback riding, canoeing, high and low ropes courses, camping, gardening and geocaching. We are a free service, lasting from 6 months to a year for each student, and we provide all transportation to and from your goal-focused appointments and group activities. We are a referral-based program and receive referrals from family members, community members, schools, courts, mental health agencies, churches, and social services.

What is a typical day for a student in the program?
We like to say that there is no typical day for our staff or our students. You can find the Elements team almost anywhere students are. Each youth enrolled in the program completes a risk assessment, which provides a baseline of how many individual goal-focused appointments the youth will have each month. Goal-focused consultations usually take place after classes at our facilities or in the community.

Students will also see our team during the school week as we speak with counselors, teachers, and school resource officers to track grades, attendance, schoolwork, behavior, and attend treatment team meetings.

If a student has a difficult day at school, we integrate into that situation when appropriate and act as a support for the student and parent. We also participate in court hearings, sometimes participate in intensive home consultations, and attend meetings with social services when necessary. We are a strength-based program that works with individual youth in a way that works specifically for them. And if by chance our students are not at school, for one reason or another, we will also go to their homes and communities until they return to the school environment.

What are your goals now and in the future, and how has recent expansion affected your work and service?
With the increase in the number of employees, we were able to create three teams to serve primary, secondary and higher education students. Before this year we were able to intensively serve 40 high school students at a time, whereas now we can intensively serve 100 students.

We’ve also accomplished a goal we’ve had for several years, which was to create a family component to the show. With the expansion, we were able to bring in three family support social workers, one for each team, to work directly with those responsible for students in our program. We have worked with young people for years, but we knew that so many needs could not be met if we could not work more intensively with tutors to support them in their personal and family goals. This component has tremendously improved our program services as we were able to support tutors with job search, food support, housing support, bill support, school meetings and referrals for therapeutic needs.

We have also begun to integrate school resource officers into our activities. This integration has provided a safe place for our students to go during the school day and created an additional relationship between the school resource officer such that when an incident happens at school it is quickly stopped due to the relationship they now have with those students.

We are also currently working on creating a life skills room for high school participants and their guardians. This room will be utilized to teach older teens and parents the everyday life skills of cooking, cleaning, laundry, as well as applying for jobs to prepare them for future goals and independence. Looking ahead, we have plans to create tutor support groups, expand family activities within the program, organize school and career events for our students, and immerse ourselves more directly in the community.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is seeing the impact the relationships we create have on families and students. The best days are when our alumni or guardians call us to check in and update us on their lives, or stop by the office just to say hello.

The program has been around for so long that we have alumni who already have children of their own now that they are enrolling in the program. It’s an honor when a former student reaches out and says, “I want for my son what I could get from you.” Knowing that the support you provide has had a lasting effect is by far my favorite part of this job.

Kristy and the Elements team have done incredible work in our community for nearly two decades, and the program’s expansion last year with the help of the Commissioners will only help to make a greater impact. I appreciate the Sheriff’s efforts to ensure that the youth in our community are supported, and I look forward to seeing even more positive results from this program.

If you know a student who could benefit from the services Elements offers, please contact Kristy for an email referral form [email protected] or call the Elements program at 798-4300. You can also find out more about Elements on Facebook.

A Public Service Profile on the Elements of Building Relationships by Chris Coudriet

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