Having worked with — and raised — teenagers in Jefferson County, Amy Bartlett hesitated at using the words “at risk.”
Labeling young people isn’t something she’s inclined to do, even if the child has been suspended or otherwise isolated from school.
Bartlett, who has worked as Chimacum’s “office lady,” as a YMCA tutor and a coordinator of the county’s homeless youth program, has established a new nonprofit organization, Jeffco Vamonos.
The name, an emphatic form of the Spanish expression for “Let’s go!,” describes her mission: to help local teens learn to navigate the world outside their home county.
Along with her board of directors, which includes schoolteachers and business people, Bartlett has a vision for field trips to culturally rich places in King County — and even to an agricultural village in Baja California.
Job training and mentorship are also part of the plan for the organization, which aims to pick up where Port Townsend’s Jumping Mouse Children’s Center and the Jefferson County Big Brothers-Big Sisters programs leave off agewise.
Jeffco Vamonos plans field trips for middle- and high school-age kids this fall, to places such as Uwajimaya, the Asian grocery in Seattle’s International District; the Ballard Locks; the Pacific Science Center and Pike Place Market.
These are excursions for teens whose families couldn’t otherwise afford them, Bartlett said. They’re also for Jefferson County students who’ve entered what she calls the “loop.”
Over and over, the youngsters get “discipline referrals,” as they’re called at school. After being removed from class, these students have little opportunity to engage with classmates, make connections with adults and build confidence.
Often the term “at risk” is attached to them, Bartlett said; hence her pause before using it on the organization’s website, jeffcovamonos.org.
“Then my board members said, ‘Put it on there. Everyone is at risk right now,’ ” in the wake of the pandemic.
“I want the kids who need the mentorship, so they can learn how to try their hand at new things, and come back into school with a story to tell,” said Bartlett, who’s also in the midst of earning a master’s degree in educational psychology from Capella University.
In addition to the small-group field trips, Jeffco Vamonos’ plans include a celebration at the end of the school year: a community dinner at Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum. Students will take the online course for food handler’s permits, which help qualify them for future jobs, Bartlett said.
Their mentor on this adventure is Tim Curtis, a professional chef Bartlett recruited for the Jeffco Vamonos team.
Since she’s in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, Bartlett is limited in her grant-receiving possibilities. She has won a $1,500 “Spark Joy” grant, however, from the Jefferson Community Foundation.
Edensaw Woods recently became a sponsor of Jeffco Vamonos, and Bartlett continues to seek support from local companies and individuals. Information on how to support the organization is on its website, while donations may be mailed to Jeffco Vamonos, P.O. Box 1430, Port Hadlock, WA 98339.
The budget for the 2021-2022 academic year is just north of $10,000 — possible since Bartlett is not taking a salary. The volunteer board members are Realtor Holley Carlson, Magpie Alley owner Amanda Kingsley, Corvidae Construction’s Blair Francis, Long Beach Unified School District behavioral intervention assistant Dawn Heathman, and Chimacum School District teachers Gretchen Berg, Carianna Bell and Shawn Meacham.
“The big cost [for field trips] is insurance,” Bartlett said.
Other expenses include transportation and spending money; Jeffco Vamonos trips are about learning to purchase ferry tickets, travel mementos and unfamiliar foods — all of which give a teenager self-assurance.
Meacham, who’s taught in Chimacum for a couple of decades, remembers when schools funded field trips to places such as Seattle and Victoria, B.C.
“I would always be surprised to hear this was a student’s first time on a ferry,” he recalled.
“Unfortunately, the school doesn’t provide that much anymore, unless you’re on a sports team.”
Bartlett has another dream, perhaps for Jeffco Vamonos’ second year: Taking students to her family’s retreat center in San Bartolo, Mexico. The town, in an orchard-rich valley outside San Jose del Cabo, is a place to learn about Latin American culture, farming and wildlife.
Wherever the students go, Bartlett said, they will have a chance to find their way in a new environment.
With Jeffco Vamonos, she added, “they have someone on their side.”
- By Diane Urbani de la Paz
- Tuesday, June 29, 2021 1:30am
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.