LaTasha Jackson-Rodriguez, founder and executive director of RAP Youth, has more than 10 years’ experience working with individuals (both at-risk youth and adults) with multiple barriers to life. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

LaTasha Jackson-Rodriguez, founder and executive director of RAP Youth, has more than 10 years’ experience working with individuals (both at-risk youth and adults) with multiple barriers to life. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Underserved youth get in tune with RAP

Nonprofit organization tries to make a difference in the lives of at-risk kids and their struggling families

Trauma can stain a childhood.

LaTasha Jackson-Rodriquez knows as much.

She grew up in a single-parent home in Savannah, Ga., a household that struggled but overcame its plight with the help of others.

Now, Jackson-Rodriquez extends that helping hand.

She has worked as a counselor, therapist, parenting coach, motivational speaker and Child Protective Services investigator.

Wanting to do more for at-risk youth, she founded a Kent-based nonprofit organization committed to the cause.

RAP (Restore Assemble Produce) Youth, led by a small staff and a group of volunteers, is helping underserved kids by providing services that empower and enrich each child to overcome life’s challenges with confidence, competence and success.

“We’re dealing with trauma indirectly without counseling,” said Jackson-Rodriquez, RAP Youth executive director. “We are reaching these children who don’t know they are actually being reached. … We just create a safe atmosphere … so they are able to talk and express themselves … They can open up around one another. Help them becoming leaders and how to utilize their voice in a more positive, healthy way.”

Supported by a mini grant, RAP Youth was launched a year ago at Mill Creek Middle School, where Jackson-Rodriquez and counselors worked with a small group of high-need, traumatized students in grades 5-7.

The program continues to grow with a grant from Best Starts for Kids, King County’s voter-approved initiative that vows to put every baby born, every child raised in the county on a path toward lifelong success.

RAP Youth has plans to expand its reach to other schools and neighborhoods.

To meet the challenge to engage more youth and families, RAP Youth recently opened a center at 407 W. Gowe St., across from Kent City Hall. The building had been used as a domestic violence visitation and exchange center for Safe & Sound Visitation, originally Safe Haven, before closing in 2013 because of a lack of funding.

“It has been amazing …. we feed these children, we meet twice a week,” Jackson-Rodriquez said of the new spot that gives youth a chance to do after-school work and program activities. “People don’t know that some of these children are going home and not able to eat. Some are homeless. … At the end of the day we are touching their lives in an indirect way. We’re big on healing, we’re big on connecting them to the community … helping to overcome their problems, challenges in life.”

As Jackson-Rodriquez explains, RAP Youth is about life coaching, not therapy. It’s about identifying and provided help for youth and their families.

RAP follows an AXIOS – a Greek term meaning “to have value or be worthy” – mentor program model in which caring adults identify children and youths’ needs and provide them with the tailor-made individualized tools, services and programs they need to create positive lives. Efforts are designed to bring out active leadership, reducing suspensions, increasing school engagement and getting more parents engaged in their youths’ school and academic life. Youths develop the capacity for social-emotional growth, intelligence, self-regulation and positive self-identity through the programs.

“We allow the kids to lead and be the voice, to utilize their gifts and talents,” Jackson-Rodriquez said. “We build on their strengths, not so much on where they come from. … There are no labels … we move forward.”

The program is making an impact.

“It’s working because we see the amount of kids every week,” said the Rev. Jimmie James, a project consultant for RAP Youth.

Scott Haynes, Mill Creek principal, and his staff have seen how the RAP Youth after-school program has made a difference in the lives of many students dealing with adverse circumstances. RAP Youth has given students an opportunity to do positive activities, a chance to “talk things out” with others, build leadership and bridge relationships with adults, peers and family.

“They’ve been a great partner for us,” Haynes said.

RAP Youth is among several community-based organizations the school works with to provide wraparound services, involvement and activities to help underserved kids make good choices.

“We’re trying to really build on two major things here at Mill Creek – parent involvement and positive school climate culture,” Haynes said. “Those are the goals.

“I can’t say enough about the RAP and AXIOS team and LaTasha,” Haynes said. “She’s an incredible personality … who also helps drive our school improvement plan.”

Added Jackson-Rodriquez: “It’s not just a program, it’s an assignment. … There’s so many children in need.”

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At-risk youth display their artwork at the Kent RAP center. The off-campus place gives kids room to do after-school activities. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

At-risk youth display their artwork at the Kent RAP center. The off-campus place gives kids room to do after-school activities. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

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