Oakland Youth First

Scotlan Youth & Family Center


The person alongside the youth and sharing their journey of exploration is a counselor trained to work through the most difficult and diverse problems. Violence, trauma and PTSD are all issues our staff understands well. Unraveling the complexities of each individual’s unique situation is vital to creating an effective solution. Our primary concern is to resolve the mental barriers and emotional distress that have created a sense of hopelessness and despair. This debilitating condition creates a cycle of self-destructive and anti-social choices that can ultimately ruin their life. Resolving the issues that have hijacked their life, their growth and their dreams is the first piece of empowering young people to achieve great things. Once this debilitating weight has been lifted, a person’s mind can begin to think freely.

“I saw the angel trapped in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  ~Michelangelo 



A mind is engaged.  A connection happens.  The journey begins.

Oakland Youth First uses a variety of technologies and environments to captivate the interest of young adults. Imagine being surrounded by digital screens as you learn to pilot a plane in a flight simulator cockpit. Perhaps music is your passion. In our DJ studio youth can use audio mixers, digital turntables and other equipment to create and record music tracks. This studio is part of a complete digital media and arts program where youth can explore their creativity in video production, editing and graphic design. Oakland has over 19 miles of coastline and is the 5th busiest port in the United States. The Oakland Youth First has a 32’ cabin cruiser to explore the numerous career opportunities surrounding the environment and marine industries. Whether it is cruising beside a 1000 foot long container ship arriving from China or experiencing the diverse array of wildlife living in the estuary, being involved in our marine program is an unforgettable, life changing experience. 

Oakland Youth First uses these technologies to help youth discover careers options and to teach job training skills; however, the equipment also plays another key role. 

At risk youth often find it difficult to discuss their life and the issues creating stress. Sharing and exploring these engaging activities early in the counseling process establishes an important, deeper level of communication that goes beyond the ordinary counseling discussion.

As the young person becomes immersed in the experience they also begin to open up, sharing past and present issues affecting their life.  Sometimes the comments expressed have never been shared, even with their closest friends.

As their worries are conveyed, an understanding begins.


Not having the chance to experience life beyond one’s immediate surrounding is one of the most damaging and stunting inequities affecting families with limited economic resources. 

As the issues that have been preventing growth are resolved, we can more deeply explore what inspires and motivates. The same activities and environments that were initially used to engage youth in counseling discussions are now used to help discover the world and the immense opportunities available.  

“The only source of real knowledge is experience.”  ~Albert Einstein

At Oakland Youth First, young people can participate in work-based learning programs which add depth and meaning to their education. Our programs are focused on Linked Learning principles which have been developed by a diverse, statewide group of educators, employers, and community-based organizations. When paired with opportunities to experience the subject matter firsthand, classroom learning becomes more meaningful and relevant to students. Students then become more engaged and excited about their education and their future career choices.

When addressing issues such as hopelessness, motivation and inspiration, the words of a poet ring true.

“Nothing becomes real until it is experienced”  ~Keats.



Oakland Youth First uses innovative, evidence-based client-centered services to teach participants life, job and conflict-management skills to reduce recidivism and encourage learning.
Located in West Oakland, Scotlan Youth and Family Center is a California nonprofit serving East Bay families since 1966. Oakland Youth First is the banner under which SYFC operates its career-exploration classes, extensive wrap-around teen-and-family support services, and academic assistance programs.
In each child lives a greatness. 

It is vital that every one of our children come to know this truth; and to have the guidance and opportunity to achieve their true potential.
Often negative experiences and years of accumulated stress become overwhelming, creating disengagement and a sense of hopelessness.

For many youth, the dreams that once inspired them are now difficult to even recall. 

Our mission is not only to rekindle those dreams but also resolve the barriers that prevent these dreams from becoming reality.  

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” ~John Lewis

Oakland Youth First has developed an innovative program for working with at risk youth. We understand that each child is a unique and complex individual.
Our approach is simple and effective; Connect – Resolve – Empower