It's been 20 years since former Red Wing Mayor Romeo Cyr tasked a group of Red Wing residents to find ways to address a growing drug and alcohol problem among the city's youth.

Two decades later, Youth Outreach -- the program that grew out of that initiative -- is still helping Red Wing's teens and young adults ages 15 to 21 with everything from drugs and alcohol to poverty and staying in school.

"It was successful right from the start," said Brian Peterson, who has served on the organization's board since its inception. "Alcohol and drug abuse are just kind of the outside things that you see. What our organization has really worked at is addressing problems and issues that are underneath the skin."

The program got off the ground with funding from the city and Goodhue County Social Services and the Red Wing School District. In the early 2000s, the organization became incorporated as an independent 501c3 nonprofit, which allowed the group to get funding from private foundations and become independent of public funding.

But that's not the only change the program has gone through in the last 20 years.

"What we learned right away was that you have to address kids where they are and what their needs are," Peterson said.

In years past, Youth Outreach dealt with students who were in crisis situations -- kids in danger of dropping out of school, dealing with emotional issues or having trouble coping with life changes.

Now, Youth Outreach life coach Joette Hall said the organization will still do some of that work. But workers have recently shifted the focus into doing more preventative work. Students are now referred to the program by the school district, court services or other community groups.

Then the students meet one-on-one with either Hall or coaches Anne Lang or Stacy Hartmann weekly. They work to address issues that the students are facing at that time.

"We just want to try to focus on helping kids to make better choices, to learn the skills and they need to find what they're passionate about," Hall said.

It's also about having a caring adult mentor "in their lives that could provide them good direction," Peterson said.

Students also attend a weekly life skills course. Hall said the organization is hoping to add a work experience component later this year.

"Our focus is on helping kids with their education and really finding their passion in life and helping them go out and do their life work," Hall said.

This year, Youth Outreach will help anywhere from 75 to 100 teens and young adults who are at risk of dropping out of school, are dealing with family issues or need emotional or sometimes financial support.

Heidi Raasch, high school guidance counselor and Youth Outreach board member, said the impact the program has on teens is evident.

"You definitely can see a direct impact to kids," she said. "A lot of times that's the only adult that is there to support them."

Hall, who has been with the organization for 11 years, calls the work Youth Outreach does "heart work."

"I am so honored to work with the kids that I've worked with," she said. "These kids allow us to come into their lives and their families. The kids have been through such adversity. They just come back and they're amazing people. ... It's really about the kids and the progress they make and the changes they make."

The details

What: Youth Outreach 20th anniversary celebration

When: 2 p.m. Oct. 14

Where: Red Wing American Legion

Cost: Free