Contributions of time

Betty Youngren

Photo By Larry Dalton

After I attended a lecture on prison health care at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church with community activist Betty Youngren, the 76-year-old invited me to her house, where she offered me a warm smile and some fresh, homemade soup. I was surprised to hear that on any given day, she spends more of her time helping her community than some people spend working. Youngren, who hosted meetings for a Parkinson’s-disease association out of her house for 12 years, now spends six to seven hours a day working with organizations like the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), Area Congregations Together (ACT), the Neighborhood Accountability Program (NAP) and the Start after-school program.

What compels you to do all of this?

I do like to help people, but if I wasn’t doing this, what else would I do? I have joined Netflix, and I really like it, but I’m not the type of person who could just sit around all day.

What do you do for each of these organizations?

I write a monthly newsletter for the Funeral Consumers Alliance, giving prices for each funeral home. I’m on the national board for that organization, and I answer the funeral consumers’ hotline out of my living room. I have been with ACT since it was started six or seven years ago. Right now, it represents about 40,000 people all over Sacramento. It was through ACT that we also started NAP. We help to clean up neighborhoods around Sacramento. I am an investigator for them in the Arden-Arcade area. What I do is I go to the houses of young people who have committed nonviolent offenses, and I interview them with their parents. I write up the interview and deliver it to the board that is going to hear their case. We put the kids through a six-month program of community service and have them write letters of apology.

What type of stuff lands kids in NAP?

It’s really just stupid stuff. I think that one time, there was a kid about 10 years old, but he got in trouble for going into a store, peeling the wrappings off of some pens and sticking them in his pockets.

What happens if they choose not to do the community service?

What our program does is it gives the kids a chance to save themselves the trouble of having petty offenses on their record. If they re-offend, or choose not to come to the community service, they go back to court, and the offense goes on their record.

What other things are ACT and NAP lobbying for?

We are currently passing around a bill that would give a dollar-and-a-half of every pack of cigarettes to children’s health care. We’ve been pushing on that bill for a while now.

What about the Start program?

I’ve been involved in the Start after-school program for quite some time. What it started out as was a way to keep kids off the streets after school, help them with their homework and give them a healthy snack. What I do now is help them to go after community funds.

Who usually benefits from the Start program?

Usually, the people who benefit from it are lower-income families, who work sometimes two jobs just to keep their families together. A lot of the time, they are immigrant families, who speak little to no English.

What do you do if the children don’t speak any English?

We teach them to speak English and to read. We also correspond using translators with their parents on a weekly basis and teach them how to speak English more fluently if they want to. This helps them to be more supportive through the child’s academic career. The parents in general are extremely receptive to the idea.

Are there any other side projects that you have through the ACT program?

We have an exercise program at my church, St. Mark’s Methodist, twice a week that I lead. We also have our local ACT meetings there. We also take turns with other congregations through ACT, doing the Family Promise program. We help out families that are going through financial trouble by making them dinner and eating with them. We also provide a place to stay, blankets and other stuff for a week, and then they move on to a new congregation, until they get everything together to stand on their own two feet.

If there were one thing you could change about people in general, what would it be?

I would change the attitude of a lot of people so that they would tend to help “poor” people instead of judge and disdain and ignore them. There are so many ways to do this that are not costly in time or money; they’re just caring about people and being there. When you care about somebody, and pay attention to them, the other things just flow toward them.