SLO County grand jury praises Grizzly Academy

The Grizzly Academy for at-risk youngsters has received effusive praise from San Luis Obispo County civil grand jurors, who describe it as a highly effective program with committed participants and caring staff preparing graduates for productive lives while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

In a report titled “The Grizzly Youth Academy: Dream, Achieve, Believe,” grand jurors enthusiastically outlined their impressions of the California National Guard Youth Academy, located at Camp San Luis Obispo.

The institute, which serves at-risk teens from Central and Northern California, opened in 1998 with 73 students between 16 and 18. Since then it has seen 4,000 youngsters complete the program.

Grizzly has been a cornucopia of success, as grand jurors paint it. It has, for example, awarded 1,461 GED and high school diplomas since 1998. Those teens who go through the 20-week residential program see an average improvement of 1.2 in their grade level.

One of the requirements for being accepted by the academy is a commitment to make a life change, and the grand jury report makes clear that most of those who attend do exactly that, not only while at Grizzly, but afterward.

The program does not merely educate teenagers and turn them loose, it tracks them in their respective communities for one year, with a “carefully screened and matched” mentor.

As a result, 91 percent of graduates are either employed, attending high school, college or vocational school, or volunteering in their communities.Grand jurors went out of their way to praise the staff as well as the students.

“They are so involved with them,” one grand juror wrote, “and know what makes them tick and what guidance is needed. Plus, they are such encouragers.”

Grand jurors noted that Grizzly participants have volunteered in San Luis Obispo County organizations, giving time to more than 50 nonprofits and providing more than 25,000 hours of community service.

Grizzly has “a special relationship” with the county’s Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center, providing counseling, education and therapy.

Grand jurors put Grizzly and its national counterparts into a larger economic context and contrasted what would be saved — in addition to the human lives of countless youth — by using programs such as Grizzly rather than putting these youngsters behind bars.

They save taxpayers $109 million a year, based on a cost of $14,000 per cadet contrasted with $40,000 for corrections costs, for example, grand jurors wrote.