Positive Alternatives, Inc. has been in existence since 1974. Our goal is to continually look for innovative and creative programs to benefit youth, the community, and the counties that we service. These services are driven by our current mission statement: “Through a continuum of family and strength based services Positive Alternatives strives to equip at risk youth and young adults with the social, emotional and developmental skills needed to flourish.”
The agency’s services started in October 1974, when Alpha House Youth Care, Inc., a 501©3, non-profit corporation was developed. Although the agency changed the corporation name in July 1996 to Positive Alternatives, Inc., the group home retained the program name of Alpha House. The agency follows policy and procedures that are board approved, and the board is governed by the bylaws that have been in effect since its development in 1981, when the agency gained non-profit status. The group homes are now known as Positive Alternatives-Menomonie, Positive Alternatives-River Falls, and Positive Alternatives-Amery.
Positive Alternatives group homes are licensed by the State of Wisconsin as an eight-bed group foster home for male and female youth between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. There are currently three homes offering these services. The first in Menomonie, Wisconsin was followed by a second opened in 2006 in River Falls, Wisconsin. Our third home, an all-female resident facility located in Amery, Wisconsin, opened in the Summer of 2014 . All three group homes provide room and board, supervision, structure, counseling and recreational opportunities for the residents. The group homes accept referrals from all Wisconsin counties.
In addition to the group homes, Positive Alternatives has offered many other programs to youth and families throughout the years. These programs have all been aimed at either prevention or early intervention for at-risk youth and families. Examples of programs offered have been TeenCare Runaway Program, School Mentoring, Youth Connections, Sandcastles, Positive Alternatives Support Services (PASS)/Short Term Adolescent Tracking and Support (STATAS), and Teenage Parent Program (TAPP).
During the 1960’s, due to a complex range of social issues, America’s streets began to see a greater number of runaway youth. The inability of the juvenile justice system to cope with the increased runaway population led to the spontaneous development of grassroots alternative services for youth. In 1979, a group of four volunteers led by Reverend Ren Svanoe started four runaway programs in Wisconsin. The group lobbied for government funding and established an umbrella non-profit organization to govern all runaway programs in 1982. The organization was named the Wisconsin Association of Homeless and Runaway Services (WAHRS).
TeenCare was one of the original eight programs established by WAHRS in 1982 and was adopted as an additional service program offered to area youth by Alpha House Youth Care, Inc. The program began under the name of Bifrost but changed to TeenCare in 1985. Since its inception, WAHRS has extended geographical coverage of runaway services to 61 of the 71 counties in Wisconsin. TeenCare covers the six counties of Dunn, Barron, Polk, Pierce, Pepin, and St. Croix.
The Menomonie School Mentoring Program found its way to Positive Alternatives, Inc. in 1997. This mentoring program matches students in grades Kindergarten through twelfth grade with positive role models from the community. The mentor meets with the youth for one hour a week, during the school day, on school grounds for the purpose of providing encouragement, support and friendship. The success of this program is representative of the strong collaboration between Positive Alternatives and the Menomonie Area School District. A teacher, school counselor or parent can refer youth to this program. This program is designed to assist students who are struggling with some aspect of the educational process (i.e. absenteeism, failing grades, and/or struggling relationships). The United Way, donations and the Menomonie Area Schools funded the Dunn County School Mentoring Program. However, the School Mentoring Program is no longer being offered.
In 1999, Positive Alternatives, Inc. took on new programs including the Sandcastles Divorce Program in September and the Dunn County Juvenile Home Detention and Electronic Monitoring Programs in October. The STATAS program was also added in October, and is now being called the PASS program.
Sandcastles is a nationally recognized program to help children cope with their parents’ divorce. Children participate in small, interactive groups with others their own age, while parents attend their own session on the importance of co-parenting. The group meets one time for three and a half hours. To make the experience comfortable and enriching, trained facilitators lead role-plays, videos, discussions and workbook activities. Parents and youth join together and participate the last half hour of the seminar as one group. All parents in Dunn, Pepin and Buffalo counties as well as their children over the age of six need to attend prior to their divorce.
The PASS (Positive Alternatives Support Services) program [originally called STATAS (Short Term Adolescent Tracking And Support)] is designed to provide intensive, short-term intervention and support for youth, ages 10 to 17, and their families. The program works with a variety of youth issues including school truancy and deficiency, delinquency, child protection and mental health. The program staff have frequent contact with youth and parents (meeting 4 hours a week face to face) to help build skills necessary for youth and family development and strength.
In 2006, the Menomonie group home was consistently full and turning down youth. It was decided at this time that there was enough of a need to open a second group home. In October 2006, a second co-ed group home for teens opened in River Falls, WI, under the name Alpha House-River Falls. The original home was rented and licensed for six youth. Due to facility needs, Positive Alternatives built a brand new facility, also in River Falls, where Alpha House-River Falls moved in October 2008. The new facility was licensed to house eight youth. Also in 2006, a truancy contract was started with Dunn County, a tracking contract with St. Croix County began, and programs continued to grow. The truancy progam is now known as Check and Connect.
Due to increasing demand for group home services, a third group home opened in Amery, Wisconsin, during the Summer of 2014, and a fourth group home was opened in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, in Spring of 2015. Our newest (fifth) group home opened in Wausau, WI in July 2017.
In 2008, Positive Alternatives created “core programs”. Each group home is a core program, and the rest of the programs were placed under the title of Prevention Services or Intervention Services.
Prevention Services consists of programming focused on keeping the youth out of the juvenile justice system and assisting youth in maintaining strong family, community, and school relationships. At this time, there are several programs that make up Prevention Services: Community Education which includes Strengthening Families, Sandcastles and After School Groups, and TeenCare Crisis Intervention.
Intervention Services consists of programming focused on working with youth and parents to improve family, community and school relationships as well as to prevent out of home placement. The program has been used in conjunction with waiver funding to assist in stabilization of mental health issues and behaviors in the home and school. Case managers are trained in the use of Motivational Interviewing and use these skills to help the youth and the family to reach their goals. At this time, there are several programs that make up Intervention Services: Positive Alternatives Support Services (PASS), Electronic Monitoring, Check and Connect, and Day Supervision.
Positive Alternatives, Inc. is always open to and exploring opportunities to better serve the at-risk youth population and their families. As the needs of the community as well as funding changes, programming has changed. Through the core programs of Prevention Services and Intervention Services, Positive Alternatives hopes to reach and serve at-risk youth and families when services are needed and are always willing to explore new possibilities.