YSB’s Williams gets to help youth on natl. level with recent appointment

Jan Williams (right), executive director of the Youth Services Bureau of Huntington County, gives some advice to William Bradley, 15, of Huntington, on food preparation as he and Brice Estep (left), 15, of Huntington, work on the Thanksgiving dinner they shared with the Youth Services Bureau staff on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Williams, a longtime youth advocate, has recently been named to a national advisory board for the Safe Place Network.
Jan Williams (right), executive director of the Youth Services Bureau of Huntington County, gives some advice to William Bradley, 15, of Huntington, on food preparation as he and Brice Estep (left), 15, of Huntington, work on the Thanksgiving dinner they shared with the Youth Services Bureau staff on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Williams, a longtime youth advocate, has recently been named to a national advisory board for the Safe Place Network. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Nov. 23, 2015.

Jan Williams has been the tip of the spearhead to help Huntington County’s troubled youth for more than 20 years. Now, the efforts of the executive director of the Youth Services Bureau of Huntington County will be recognized on a national level.

Williams was recently tapped to serve as a member of the National Safe Place Network Advisory Board. The organization’s mission is to ensure an effective system of response for youth in crisis through public and private partnerships at local, state and national levels. It’s a program that Huntington County’s YSB has embraced for years, and close to Williams’ heart in serving area kids.

“It provides kids with immediate assistance, no matter what they do, or for whatever reason,” she says. “A kid, or a parent, or anyone can call the Safe Place number if we’re not open and they’re going to get a caring, live person responding to their issues, so it’s not calling and getting an answering machine or a recorder. So that just gives our kids in Huntington County, and in other counties that have the program, that immediate, human contact when they’re dealing with crisis. To me, I would hope everyone across the United States would have a program similar to that.”

When she got the offer to take on a three-year term on the national board, Williams was initially shocked at the news. She didn’t think the organization knew who she was.

“I am humbled to be asked to represent rural communities on this advisory board,” she says. “I don’t even know who recommended me. Over the last several years I have done some trainings at these national conventions, representing rural communities and doing outreach. So, evidently somebody that I came in contact with or had been to one of my presentations recommen-ded that I serve on this national advisory board.”

Williams just returned from the yearly Conference on Runaway and Homeless Youth, held in New Orleans, LA. This year she served double duty at the conference.

“Since we receive federal dollars to offer the Host Home Program, as a recipient we are required to go to these yearly meetings,” she explains. “But now that I’m part of the advisory board, then my role will be more so as well, because I have to represent the advisory board at these meetings.”

She has already attended her first meeting of the National Safe Place Network board, which provides expertise in the delivery of safe place, human trafficking prevention and runaway and homeless youth training and technical assistance centers throughout the United States. The 20-member group meets face-to-face two times per year and holds monthly telephone conference call meetings.

Williams also serves on the program outreach and awareness committees. One of her goals on the board will be to lend her expertise in restructuring the organization’s goals for the next three years. With her rural and small town experience, she plans to be an advocate when policies are being formed.

“My role is to represent the rural population, where we don’t always have mass transit – we don’t have the bus, we don’t have the subways, we don’t have some of the things that the bigger cities do,” she says. “So how can we get that same message across in our smaller towns and communities? That is my job to keep putting that out ... When you make the policies, you need to think about all kids, not just the kids that are in Chicago, and DC and so forth.”

Williams hopes to make National Safe Place crisis intervention known and available to every youth in the country, while protecting kids on the streets from becoming a victim of human trafficking. She says it goes on, even in this community.

“Not necessarily as much as you think that they pick them up, they kidnap them and they take them,” she explains. “The kids here are being exploited as, you’ve got a youth that may not have a place to live, or they may be struggling. So you’ve got a perp that will say, ‘I can give you food. I can give you a place to stay.’ So they get the kids that way, and then they begin asking for other things – other sexual favors, or transport that drug supply. So that’s more of what you see in rural communities as human trafficking.”

Another of her goals is to help local youth realize they also have a stake in influencing national policy right here from home.

“I want the kids to realize that there is a life outside of Huntington County, and kids are in Illinois, or Florida or New Mexico or wherever else are dealing with. So I want the kids to realize they’re part of a bigger picture or bigger issue that just little tiny Huntington, Indiana,” she says. “So that’s my goal of bringing that information back and talking to the kids we serve, as our community and our board, how we relate to a bigger picture of the network.”

Williams has been the executive director of the YSB for 21 years and has served on numerous local committees as an advocate for youth.

“Huntington’s a great place, and we work well together as a community, so being able to spotlight how things can be done – I’m excited about sharing about how we network in our community and how we pull resources,” she adds. “So hopefully, we can be a role model, too, to other communities. I’m just excited about it.”

The phone number of the Safe Place crisis line is 260-530-7676.