Home Madison 50 years in, Briarpatch Youth Services strengthens support for marginalized youth

50 years in, Briarpatch Youth Services strengthens support for marginalized youth


Briarpatch Youth Services, Inc. is a non-profit organization that has been serving youth in Dane County for the past 50 years. The agency focuses on creating a safe space for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth through its services and programs while working closely with local governments and other non-profit organizations.

“What we do at Briarpatch is preventative. We are catching and engaging our youth at a point in time where they could go either way in life,” explains Gloria Reyes, executive director & CEO of Briarpatch. “When we look at public safety, education, employment, and housing, we are stopping them and intervening so that they don’t become, in the future, homeless themselves as an adult, they don’t commit crime as adults. They’re able to be prepared for jobs and employment in their future.” 

Reyes believes that they are helping promote a thriving city through Briarpatch’s programs and services that support youth who will one day be adults working and raising their own families in Dane County, and that will also help prevent youth from going astray at a young age. Some of these services include runaway and homeless programs that provide youth under the age of 17 with shelter support, as well as support for their parents and families; youth justice programs that support individuals in the juvenile justice system; and an employment program that helps prepare youth by giving them job experiences and skills that will help prepare them for future employment. Through all of this, Reyes and her team at Briarpatch, recognize the importance of acknowledging the most vulnerable populations, which include youth of color and queer youth, in order to better support these communities.

Simone Lawrence (left) and Gloria Reyes at last year’s Briarpatch Youth Arts Festival. (Photo supplied)

“Due to inequities in our system and education, in employment, housing, etc., we do see that our most vulnerable population are our youth and families of color, and our LGBTQ queer youth,” says Reyes. “Because that is our focus, we have a diverse group of staff who have lived experiences and who have the expertise in engaging with our Black, Latino, LGBTQ queer youth, in helping them through some difficult times so that we can change the trajectory of their lives to being productive, and to excel in their careers, and in life.”

One of Briarpatch’s signature events, the annual Briarpatch Youth Services Youth Arts Festival, will be taking place this weekend. This Saturday, June 25, at noon, there will be an opportunity for the community to be entertained by dance, spoken word, hip-hop, and singing as local youth display their artwork.

Since being named executive director & CEO of Briarpatch, Reyes has made it her goal to invest in diversifying the organization’s staff while also centering their work around equity and inclusion. In order to serve a diverse population of youth, Reyes believes that the organization must provide a sense of inclusion and belonging by creating a space with diverse staff who look like or share similar experiences as the youth who walk through their doors. 

Briarpatch Youth Services is located at 2720 Rimrock Road in Madison.
(Photo by David Dahmer)

To further its goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Briarpatch has also implemented programs such as Teens Like Us, which provides support and education for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Queer youth from the ages of 13-18. The Wisconsin Assembly passed two bills that prohibit trans athletes from playing girls’ school sports last year, alienating trans youth from equity in Wisconsin. With trans and queer folk continuing to face exclusion, victimization, and violence, Briarpatch seeks to fully support LGBTQ+ youth and provide affirming spaces that allow them to have a voice at the table as a form of risk prevention, Reyes said. 

While ingraining DEI efforts into their programs and services, Briarpatch will continue to serve vulnerable and at-risk youth in Dane County to create a better future. 

“I encourage all the community to support Briarpatch because, as I mentioned earlier, we are preventative — we provide services to change the trajectory of our young people’s lives,” says Reyez. “All those young people will become adults in our city, and it’s an investment. When you invest in them now, you are investing in the future of the city and the county.”