Lasallian Association of Youth and Family Services Never Gives Up

by James J. Logan, Executive Director, Office for Mission and Ministry

Therapy dog Maxie enjoys an afternoon of relaxation with students at La Salle School in Albany NY.

In 1705, St. John Baptist de La Salle and the first Brothers began renting and eventually purchased the property at St. Yon. Located on the outskirts of the French city of Rouen, the program at St. Yon would evolve into the Novitiate, the Boarding School, and the House of Detention, which treated the “maladjusted” and mentally ill. The daily schedule was highly regulated, including prayer, academic instruction, and vocational training.

The success at St. Yon led over the centuries to a vast array of schools and programs across the worldwide Institute that served and continue to serve delinquent & dependent youths and students with special education needs.

One of the great strengths of the District of Eastern North America (DENA) is the incredible diversity of our schools and agencies and the young people they serve. A key component of that diversity are the Lasallian Association of Youth and Family Services (LAYFS) ministries. These ministries share direct lineage from the work of the Founder and the first Brothers at St. Yon. They serve some of the poorest, least educated, and highly traumatized youth in our District.

Clients and staff attend a clinical therapy session at St. Francis & St. Vincent Homes in Pennsylvania.

DENA continues to respond to those whom the Founder referred to as being “abandoned to themselves”with five distinct LAYFS ministries in three states. These are:  La Salle School in Albany NY (founded in 1854), St. Francis & St. Vincent Homes just outside of Philadelphia PA (founded in 1885), Martin de Porres Schools in Queens NY (founded in 1971), Ocean Tides in Narragansett RI (founded in 1975), and Tides Family Services throughout northern RI (founded in 1983).

The LAYFS ministries of DENA partner with the various governmental agencies and Family Courts in Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania. Each of our five ministries has developed a unique range of programs to meet the most urgent unmet needs of their community. However, at all five ministries, the clients referred to us through these agencies, courts, etc. are given the top level of care and treatment in the industry.

Clients of Tides Family Services in Rhode Island are surprised by a holiday delivery from staff.

While each of our ministries has its own special qualities, the main common thread among them is education—very specialized Lasallian education. Another commonality are the highly skilled employees and resources to meet all of the needs of the client: emotional, clinical, physical, sociological, etc. to guide them to overcoming their past traumas and setbacks to and put them on a path toward healing, success and positive community engagement.  

Four of our five ministries have a residential component, acting as custodian of the youths in our care, with services available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The fifth ministry, Tides Family Services, specializes in community-based services and outreach to keep youths out of placement. What makes them unique among this type of service provider is that they also have emergency services available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

While each of these programs does incredible work, they are all also incredibly vulnerable.  Typically,these ministries operate underfunded, due to the fact that more than 80 percent of their annual revenue often comes from contracts with the Youth and Family Services authorities of their state. Of course, this also means that they are always under intense scrutiny from governmental regulations and regulators.  

Young men from the culinary vocational program at Ocean Tides help cater events at Christian Brothers Center in Narragansett RI.

Just over a year ago, this same dependence caused the amazing work accomplished by various residential and community-based programs of the St. Gabriel’s System, a LAYFS system serving the Philadelphia area for over 120 years, to lose funding, resulting in closure by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This was due to the Juvenile Justice System shift away from placements in congregate care facilities.

While states always remember salary increases for their own employees, many of our programs rarely see increases in their contract payments from the state, even as caseloads continue to rise. Due to this, we are told by Mrs. Beth Bixby, CEO at Tides Family Services,For the first time in its 39-year-old history, Tides has been forced to put some of its clients on a waitlist for services.

Even through such intense pressure, and the dependence on the fluctuating rules of public funding, the Christian Brothers always strive to provide the opportunity for safety, stability, and growth for those entrusted to our care. Therefore, we are constantly updating and adjusting services. These circumstances call to light two very important facts:

Our staff—who daily face not just the stress of the job, but the stresses, limitations, and insecurities of depending on public funding—are some of the finest and most dedicated youth care providers in the world.

Proud 2021 graduate of Martin de Porres High School in Queens NY displays his diploma and service award.

We—everyone in our Lasallian family—must not tire in our efforts to ensure that this vital legacy of our Founder continues. We do this through our prayers, through whatever influence each may have with our government officials, and through our continued financial support of the Lasallian mission.

For three hundred and seventeen years, Lasallians have been engaged in accompanying young people experiencing life’s most vulnerable and precarious circumstances as they grow, change, and heal, in ways that allow them to experience Jesus’ words, “I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”  Today, this legacy continues through the incredible work of the Lasallian men and women in the multiple LAYFS agencies of this District.