In 1999, a series of drug and alcohol-related deaths forced the South Berkshire community to face the fact that it was losing its young people. Fed up with attending friends’ funerals, Amanda Root, a 19-year-old high school dropout, began attending meetings of concerned citizens who called themselves the Heroin Task Force and Prevention Council.
The adults on the Task Force kept coming back to the same question, “What do the young people want?” Amanda’s answer to this question was, “Why don’t you ask the young people?”, and the seed for Railroad Street Youth Project was sown.
Amanda and her team soon secured a small office on Railroad Street in Great Barrington and a $2,500 fund at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. The young staff created youth-inspired projects, workshops, performances and publications, all thanks to partnerships with dozens of businesses, artists, and other non-profits in the community. RSYP sponsored over 100 such projects during their early years, including Project Native, which went on to become a thriving small business with a 53 acre farm that was the center of the movement for native plants in the Berkshires for more than 10 years.
Today, RSYP is a dynamic non-profit organization with a $300,000+ annual budget, helping young people bring their ideas and inspirations to fruition and discover their place in the world. Our services and programs have evolved to meet the changing needs of local young people. The Youth Operational Board continues to fund youth-inspired projects. We run ongoing mentoring and apprenticeship programs, provide sexual health programming through the local schools, offer job training and career counseling, and staff an active drop-in center that provides counseling, mediation, referrals and advocacy services for young people in need.
Founder Amanda Root went on to attend and graduate with honors from Bryn Mar College in 2008 and earned a Master of Art in Educational Administration from University of the Pacific in 2011. She is now the Director of Development for a tuition free school in central Virginia.