MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University has launched Regional Transition Navigator services to support West Virginia’s at-risk youths.

Lesley Cottrell, director, Center for Excellence in Disabilities, professor, WVU School of Medicine, School of Public Health (WVU Photo)

The new program is designed to connect West Virginians, ages 14-25, with resources that can help them deal with any serious emotional disturbance, mental illness and/or substance use disorders, among other potential tribulations like homelessness, aging out of foster care or juvenile detention, or human trafficking.

The program falls under the guidance of Lesley Cottrell, director of the Center for Excellence in Disabilities and professor in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health, and will be funded by a $432,000 award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

“Addiction is an equal opportunity opponent,” Sam Wilkinson, program manager, said. “Lives are lived not in blacks and whites, but in shades of gray. Our long-term desired outcomes are to help folks into better situations than the ones they are currently in, no matter what that situation might be.”

Wilkinson is one of six navigators across the state that works with communities to help local youths. They can be found in locations such as Barboursville, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Mount Hope and Oak Hill.

Regional Transition Navigator team members connect participants with whatever they need, including housing, transportation, utilities, food, violence prevention and support, education, health care, medication, communication skills to advocate for themselves, life skills and knowing who to contact for help.

Sam Wilkinson, Regional Transition Navigator program manager, and his team connect at-risk youth and young adults throughout West Virginia to resources that will help them develop independent living skills, create and cultivate natural supports, access and participate in treatment and recovery services, and thrive in their independence. The new program at West Virginia University is funded by an award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. (WVU Photo/Davidson Chan)

“The program aims to be as malleable as possible when working with its clients,” Wilkinson said. “What works for one client will not necessarily work for another, and our goal is maximized flexibility that allows us to respond to individual needs. As a result, response is tailored on a case-by-case, or perhaps more accurately, a situation-by-situation basis. Our goal is working to solve the immediate challenges as part of a longer-term strategy of teaching problem-solving skills useful throughout one’s life.”

Anyone with a referral can enroll, even if it comes from themselves.

“We rely upon those who have an awareness and knowledge of their own communities – health care professionals, front-line staffers, social workers, counselors, teachers, coaches – and our partners throughout the state,” Wilkinson said. “We have enrolled roughly 30 participants and would like to connect with more.

“Reaching younger folks can serve as an intervention before decision-making calcifies into bone-deep habits,” Wilkinson said. “We want to do supportive work that helps individuals choose healthier paths. Through the provision of direct, personalized connection, we are hopeful to benefit both them and their communities.”