‘Youth Guidance’ fetes summer of expanding kids’ horizons – 32963 Features, People

The Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy celebrated the conclusion of its summer camp with an End of Summer Party that featured games, backpack giveaways, food – including icy treats from Kona Ice – and signups for its after-school programs.

“We are coming up on our 50th anniversary in Indian River County; we were established in 1973,” said Phil Barnes, YG executive director. “So this is sort of the start of a series of events we will be doing for our families and for our supporters to showcase the 50th anniversary of Youth Guidance.”

As they head into their golden anniversary year, they are embarking on a $1.5 million Capital Campaign to refurbish the 60-year-old building to better meet their growing needs. Plans include a commercial kitchen, a workshop, multi-purpose rooms for life skills training, and a state-of-the-art tech lab.

Barnes said that they had a record enrollment of 71 participants in the summer camp, an average of 50 attending each day, with participants receiving breakfast and lunch every day.

For the second year, they partnered with CB Farms of Vero Beach to offer a Farming and Agriculture program, a big hit with the kids, according to Barnes.

“They learn how to operate farm machinery; they actually learn how to drive a tractor.

They also learn how to plant crops and how to care for animals. Really, they learned in general, the ins and outs of what it takes to manage a farm,” said Barnes, noting that some might choose to become involved in 4H Club activities.

“It’s the first time a lot of them have even been out on a farm, so it’s sort of an intro to the types of things that do exist,” said Barnes.

“With the number of farms that we have in Indian River County, it’s actually a big part of the local economy. I don’t think it should be brushed under the rug because there’s plenty of farmers that need help out there. And it’s cool because it’s just one of those areas where we feel, hey, if a kid likes to do that type of work and they like to be outside and they like animals and growing food, then it can be a good fit for him. ”

That program and others are designed to introduce participants to opportunities they may not have previously considered.

Another was an electrician course, provided by LED Capstone, a Vero Beach lighting store.

“They learned how to build their own LED light, they learn how to solder, and they learned kind of the ins and outs of electricity. And again, that’s for younger kids, but planting a seed if they’re interested in pursuing a career as an electrician or in lighting.

There’s a lot of design elements that go on in that field.”

That theme was continued through the Youth Guidance STEM program, where students were taught how to build their own batteries and magnets.

“They had this Tesla coil and got to see what it looks like when it’s shooting sparks. So a lot of tactile hands-on projects,” said Barnes.

“And then we invited the Vero Beach Amateur Radio Club out and they got to see what it’s like to set up a terminal and communicate with people who are across the United States via radio signals,” Barnes said.

And, while ham radios may sound antiquated, they become a critical means of communication during emergency situations.

“The Community Emergency Response Team becomes the first line of communication if the wireless towers go out and we can’t communicate through cellphones. We do have a few students who are so interested that they’re pursuing their certification. That would be an older group, kids 12 and up.”

The summer camp was focused on participants ages 5 to 18, whereas during the school year they serve up to age 24. Then, some older teenagers and young adults participate in their Pre-Apprenticeship program which will begin again in October.

“And this is really exciting, we’re partnering with Vero Beach High School to do our Pre-Apprenticeship program there. It’s eight months, six hours a week, and they learn HVAC, welding, plumbing, carpentry and electric.”

They previously partnered with the Salvation Army for classroom space and made monthly trips down to Fort Pierce for the more hands-on learning of forklift training and high-reach safety training at Green Collar Task Force.

Youth Guidance will also continue its Culinary, Cosmetology and Sewing programs in the fall, along with boat mechanics and bicycle repair, and they plan to introduce financial literacy and budgeting.

“We’re always looking for volunteers. If anybody wants to help out kids in our community, I encourage them to call us and check out our volunteer opportunities,” said Barnes.

During COVID, there was a drop in the one-on-one mentor/mentee matches, but those are beginning to ratchet back up again.

“The one-on-one component is huge because some of our kids need that extra level of support that they can really only get in a one-on-one setting. They need that adult, that positive role model, that they can confide in,” Barnes explained.

The group mentoring takes place with the program activities, and they are introducing a third element this fall.

“We found that a lot of the behavioral issues that we’ve seen from certain children, a lot of times stem from the home environment. They lack, in a lot of cases, parental involvement,” Barnes said.

“So we’re launching an evidence-based parenting aid program, where we will be starting to provide intervention and support in the homes of our parents and families, with the goal of helping support them so that they can, in turn, become advocates for their kids success.”

Although Youth Guidance has never been a babysitting service, it is sometimes perceived as such by parents who just drop off their children and are not otherwise involved.

“We want to have the parents buying into this and help them understand: ‘Look, we’re really dedicated to the success of your kids and we’re going to help you guys. We realize that you’re stressed, or that maybe you need help with your finances, or maybe you need food, so we’ll get you plugged into a food pantry.”

Barnes said they plan to take a three-pronged approach with one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring and parental aid.

“What we are trying to do is to make sure that our kids have the best chance at success,” Barnes said.

On Oct. 7, Youth Guidance will host its 45th annual Tropical Night Luau. For more information, visit YouthGuidanceProgram.org.

Photos provided

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