Before he was a teenager, Trenton Washington was in trouble. A string of thefts ended in a burglary conviction and expulsion from school. His grade-point average sank to near zero.

But Friday, the 14-year-old from Minneapolis wore a crisp brown sport coat and black tie as he supported the nonprofit that linked him with a mentor and helped restore hope for his future. Washington and his mother, Kenosha, gathered with local authorities and government and nonprofit leaders in Brooklyn Park as the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA) made the case for programs that catch kids before they slip through the cracks.

“Waiting for these kids to develop chronic and serious problems is simply unsustainable,” Executive Director Paul Meunier said. “They’re going to demand services one way or another. Either they grow up to be producers toward the common good or they’re going to demand social services.”

Friday’s summit was YIPA’s sixth outreach event this year. The association of about 230 regional programs is trying to build awareness and momentum for funding. It has received more than $5 million from the state each of the past two years, but Meunier said Friday that it has fielded $17 million in funding requests from programs.

Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, has sponsored bills appropriating money for youth intervention programs, and vowed to continue to push for more funding.

“It not only saves state money and taxpayer dollars, it saves lives,” Franzen said. “This is an easy way to make a big difference in our community. … It’s not a partisan issue.”

The association has earned the endorsement of law enforcement associations around the state. Friday’s summit included local police officers, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.

“It doesn’t matter who cares, just that somebody does,” Stuart said.

The power of a mentor

Kenosha Washington asked around after her son got into trouble, looking for tours of juvenile centers or a police officer to speak with Trenton, only to be discouraged.

Through nonprofit Bolder Options, Trenton linked up with a mentor — one of his first male role models, he said — for about a year. They bonded over sports, Trenton being an avid basketball player.

“It was hard for me to let go and allow a stranger in to help mold him as an individual,” Kenosha Washington said. But now that mentor is considered part of their family.

During car rides to basketball courts for pickup games, they chatted about who would win, but Trenton said conversations on the way home turned to career goals and school. Trenton’s GPA at Twin Cities Academy High School in St. Paul has since climbed to 3.7.

“We are so impressed with the confident, respectful, compassionate young man that returned to us,” Twin Cities Academy Dean Erin Amundson wrote in a letter.

At first, Trenton thought about a career in real estate, but his mentor warned of the market’s volatility. Engineering is another possibility. Or, as his mother prodded, a career in law.

“I’m good at arguing,” he said.