Sunset Youth Services: Supporting At-Risk Youth Through Art & Music For 3 Decades

 Upstar Records' newest youth-produced album.

 Upstar Records' newest youth-produced album.

In 1992, Ron and Dawn Stueckle had recently moved to the Outer Sunset, and were looking to make a difference in lives of the youth in their new community. Their first step was lending a hand at A.P. Giannini Middle School for a lunchtime round of dodgeball. That playground was the beginning of what would evolve into Sunset Youth Services.

Still located in the Outer Sunset, Sunset Youth Services is a non-profit organization that's “focused on working with high-risk youth," said digital arts program coordinator Joel Tarman.

These are youth that are not just ‘at-risk’, but ‘in-risk,' meaning they already have multiple factors present in their lives—issues like domestic violence, drug abuse, housing insecurity, dropping out of high school and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system—that can derail hopes, cloud potential, and obscure opportunities.

Sunset Youth Services works to make a difference in their lives. As their website states, “we believe that given the right support and opportunities, everyone has the ability to realize their potential.”

There are many youth-focused groups that provide training or education for at-risk young people, but where Sunset Youth Services differs is in their foundation of building long-term relationships.

“Our philosophy is something we call 'attachment community,' based on an attachment parenting model," said Tarman. "The idea is that young people who have experienced trauma need much more support than a good resume or even work experience [will provide].”

For Tarman and others at Sunset Youth Services, fostering a sense of stability goes beyond simply providing education or training, as youth who come from traumatic backgrounds have developed coping mechanisms that may conflict with other programs.

The attachment community model is built around meeting these needs, said Tarman, who added that a typical “internship is not going to work because what they really need to do is learn over time how to trust people. That’s where our program differs … we operate more like a family.”

One of the group's most popular classes is the digital arts program, which Tarman coordinates. The program provides young people with “hands-on experience recording, mixing, mastering, releasing, distributing and promoting their own music and videos.”

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