YMCA Youth Advocacy Initiative helps vulnerable youth lead healthy lives

The YMCA’s Youth Services Bureau (YSB) has been serving at-risk youth for decades, but it continues to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of local youth.
For example, the YSB’s Youth Advocacy Initiative, supported in part by the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, has recently hired a new advocate to help reach more youth and has also added a new parenting support group.

The Advocacy Initiative connects youth in crisis with one-on-one and group mentoring. The staff, called youth advocates, personalize action plans for each participant, working to connect them to the health and wellness services they need, as well as tracking school progress and helping with career exploration.
Senior Program Director James McFadden says the initiative serves about 75 youth each year and has recently been able to connect with more participants coming from immigrant or refugee households.

“We have been working to build trust with the Burmese community so we can provide services regardless of cultural or language differences,” says McFadden. “Almost all our kids come from extreme trauma, so it’s all about creating strong rapport with them and letting them know they have someone who cares about them.”
McFadden also says advocates play the essential role of connecting youth with needed services, such as healthcare and counseling.

“We have great services for youth in our community,” says McFadden. “But kids don’t often know about those resources or how to get involved. Our advocates make sure youth can schedule and find transportation to needed health and wellness services.”

Recently, the Youth Advocacy Initiative added a parenting support group that supports about a dozen members who are pregnant or have young children. Together, the group learns about how to care for their children as well as themselves and lead healthy, happy lives. The YMCA shares the story of one young mother who has benefitted from the support group.

From the YMCA: Chelsi Lawson, Youth Advocate and leader of the new parenting support group, received a call from a counselor at Northrop High School with concerns about a student we will call “M.” M had always been a strong student, attended school regularly and had no behavior issues. On track to graduate, nothing seemed to be amiss until the beginning of her senior year. Suddenly M’s attendance and grades began to decline. It was becoming more difficult for the counselor to connect with M at school to try and understand the reason for the sudden change. Finally, M’s grandmother reported that she was pregnant and that her greatest concern was working as much as possible to support herself and her unborn child. School was no longer her priority, even though she was only eight credits away from graduating.

Because of the long-standing relationship between Youth Services Bureau and the school districts, the counselor was aware of the new parenting support group and referred M to attend. Chelsi immediately connected with M, which allowed them to meet and develop an action plan for M’s success. With the resources and community connections offered through the group, Chelsi and M worked with her counselor at Northrop to find an academic alternative that would allow M to both graduate from high school and work at the same time. It was then that M realized that the dreams she had before becoming pregnant did not have to fade and that she could still aspire to become the person she hoped she could be. As M opened up to the group about the struggles she was experiencing, the Youth Advocates addressed these challenges and helped others who were currently dealing with similar experiences. The team at YSB is incredibly proud of the effort and determination shown by M to not only improve her own situation, but support and encourage those around her to not give up on their dreams.