We all know that sometimes community needs can fall through the cracks and we can be hard pressed to pluck a solution from the countless local, state and federal programs meant to deliver social aid. These programs are so meticulously legislated and structured; it can be befuddling to find an obvious need, such as a lack of safe places for urban youth, occurring without a ready-made solution.

That is why the Sacramento VIBE Foundation offers a great example for other communities struggling to make things work. VIBE is an all-volunteer organization working to provide Sacramento’s high school students with a place where teens can acquire academic and vocational skills, engage in service learning, and socialize in a safe and positive environment.

But VIBE can’t and hasn’t been doing it all alone. Its progress reflects a partnership between local agencies, nonprofits, private firms, and others in the community – a dynamic reaching out to meet community needs where they don’t cleanly fit into the traditional categories of government programs.

The need is significant. Sacramento’s teens have almost nowhere to go for career advice, civic engagement, or just a safe place to hang out. Community centers are cutting hours and recreation programs are shutting down. And most youth-friendly locations close at 5 pm. As afterschool alternatives to gang violence and other crimes are shrinking away, Sacramento faces a growing problem without a ready-made solution.

VIBE was formed as a nonprofit two years ago to raise money, create partnerships, and organize youth to create a teen-owned-and-operated career center and social lounge in downtown Sacramento. The center will offer a library of teen resource books, health and safety programs, job posting board, computer lab, and a specialist who will help teens connect with local resources. Teens will also participate in monthly classes about a variety of career pathways. And of course VIBE will be a place for socializing, with a smoothie bar, DVDs, evening activities, and whatever else kids do.

How does it all come together? A group of teen and adult volunteers are devoting their time to advocating, fundraising, and organizing a program. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) is donating space in one of its buildings. And several architectural and construction firms are donating their services to make physical improvements and transform the space into an urban lounge for teens. Once the lounge is open, about 75 teen employees will be paid with school credit through the Sacramento County Regional Occupation Program, instead of actual paychecks, to save money for other improvements and equipment.

The project is a model of collaboration – but also of creativity. SHRA makes the VIBE Center possible by executing a $1 lease with the foundation for a 3,000-sf common area in one of its public housing projects. Creating a social lounge for teens is not typically considered to be within the scope of public housing, but actually the center supports one of public housing’s core duties – enhancing economic opportunities and mobility for its residents.

When Congress reformed public housing laws in the late 1990s, it saw the potential for housing programs to not only put a roof over low-income families but to also break the cycle of poverty that puts those families in need in the first place. Public housing authorities have a potential to provide economic opportunities for residents to work and become self-sufficient, as stated in the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998, especially when local agencies think outside the box and dare to get creative. SHRA has embraced this opportunity by turning its space into a vehicle of community engagement for Sacramento’s urban youth, many of whom are residents of public housing.

But when the VIBE Center opens it will mark an accomplishment not only for SHRA but for each of the stakeholders who contributed their own unique assets to the project. The center will reduce crime, enhance public safety, and give teens from low-income households a footing in a positive career path. It all became possible when the area’s public, private and nonprofit entities began to reach outside their traditional silos to cooperate and leverage each other’s assets in creative ways.

At a time when local agency budgets are severely strained and community needs are on the rise, Sacramentans are taking a fresh look at the tools in their toolbox and doing some inspired things. Check out the VIBE Foundation’s website here: http://thevibefoundation.org/index.htm. And perhaps follow their progress as Sacramento nears the opening of a great new center.