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Service From the Heart

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Community Service Programs has been helping Orange County children and their families for 40 years.

Photo Courtesy of Community Service Programs

Visit the CSP website to get involved.
:: cspinc.org

When the nonprofit organization Community Service Programs was founded in 1972 at the University of California, Irvine by way of the Social Ecology Program, Margot Carlson was an intern. Forty years later she sits as the executive director of the organization, one whose mission and purpose she still holds close to her heart.

CSP is an Orange County-based organization striving to provide assistance to families and youths who are involved or at risk of being involved with the justice system. “Locking up juveniles does not change their behavior,” Carlson says. “It punishes them, but it does not change their illegal, anti-social behavior. Therefore when they [the justice system] finish with the juveniles, they put them right back in the very same environment that produced the problem. You’ve got to make behavioral changes."

The organization houses such programs as adolescent and family counseling, youth shelters, parenting classes, victim assistance programs, domestic violence assistance, rape crisis centers, mediation services, human trafficking victim services, diversion for at-risk adolescents, gang prevention, youth and family wraparound services, and alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention, among others.   

“We try to do all of the things that weren’t done on the front end when they got in the justice system,” Carlson says. “We’re going to try to get them to complete education, to take care of any health problems, to find stable housing, to form positive peer relationships – everything that should have been done when they were young.”

With two shelters in Orange County (Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach), at-risk youths from 12 to 17 years old are given a safe haven of sorts for three weeks, when they are able to take a brief time-out from their troubled lives and go through a short-term crisis intervention program. While at the shelters, participants are under constant adult supervision; unplugged from the Internet, cell phones, television, etc.; encouraged to attend individual and family therapy sessions, as well as support group counseling. The main goal of this program, however, is family reunification. CSP’s success rate impressively ranges from 92% to 98%.

Once the three weeks are up and the child is released from the program, CSP checks in with both the child and the family at 30, 60 and 100 days post-visit. CSP checks to see if there has been any police contact, drug or alcohol use, school attendance problems, or hospitalizations since the child was released from the shelter.

“Our goals are to keep the children from incarceration, institutionalization, hospitalization, and out-of-home placement,” says Carol Carlson, director of development and Carlson’s daughter-in-law. “If these children who are at risk don’t receive treatment, they’re either going to become victims of a crime or commit one in order to survive. We want to catch them before that happens.”

Exercise, recreation time, tutoring, chores, and healthy home-cooked meals are all part of a child’s day while residing at either Orange County shelter. “Laguna Beach is such a beautiful, artistic setting. The beach is very therapeutic for a lot of these kids,” Carol says.

CSP’s largest program is the Victim Assistance Program, run by Director Ronnetta Johnson from the organization’s headquarters in Santa Ana. This program is different than those in neighboring areas because it is private and nonprofit instead of District Attorney-based. The goals of this program are to provide emotional stabilization for victims and survivors and to ensure that direct needs (such as housing and food) are met.  

“We’re really proud of the work we do here,” Carol says. “We have a great staff of very dedicated professionals. Everybody is really focused.”

Over 250 employees (and countless volunteers) make up CSP. CSP’s presence is known in just about all Orange County courts and seven Orange County police departments. With the majority of funding coming from federal and state agencies, donations – whether they are monetary or in the form of volunteering time – are always needed and welcome at CSP.

“CSP has endured the test of time through severe economic swings and changes in the County of Orange due to the expert leadership, strong fiscal management, compassion for the clients, and focus on the mission,” Carol says. “CSP will continue to enhance and expand services to Orange County residents based on the changing needs of the population.”

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