Youth Guidance’s new program ‘homes’ in on helping parents

Thursday, January 5, 2023


As it enters its 50th anniversary year, the Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy is embarking upon a $1.5 million Capital Campaign to turn its 62-year-old building into a state-of-the-art facility to house its mentoring, life skills and workforce development programs.

Youth Guidance was founded to provide one-on-one and group mentoring programs to children from low-income families. Today, in addition to mentorships, the expanded curricula of their afterschool and summer programs teaches them the skills needed to secure meaningful careers and lead productive, positive lives.

Additionally, Phil Barnes, YG executive director, told guests at a breakfast at the Quail Valley River Club, “We’re now making strides in the home environment to better help the child achieve.”

With the understanding that children who go home to a broken-home environment are less likely to thrive, they initiated a Parent Aid program that has been implemented by agencies in 23 other states. Trained staff spend up to nine months with the family, developing a plan where parents become advocates for their children’s success.

For youth participants at the academy, the three main areas of focus are academics, life skills and vocational trades. Students are given homework help and additional training in areas such as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), with a goal of having every one of their students graduate high school or advance on time to the next grade level.

Barnes said that while 98.7 percent of their participants did just that, their goal is 100 percent, “and we’re getting closer to that every year.”

Life skills programs include sewing, growing vegetables, creating budgets, basic food preparation, career skills and recreational activities, with regular assessments to measure students’ ability to perform certain tasks.

Through vocational training they are readying the next generation to secure meaningful, high-paying jobs. Students ages 12 to 18 can take part in a bicycle repair program and keep the fruits of their labor.

“And that’s really exciting because some of our kids have never owned a bicycle before,” said Barnes.

There is a boat mechanic program in partnership with Youth Sailing Foundation, as well as agricultural and culinary programs. And a state-certified pre-apprenticeship program, for ages 16 to 24, teaches fundamental knowledge for high-demand HVAC, welding, plumbing, carpentry and electric jobs.

With some 1,630 local trades contractors paying an average annual wage of about $55,600, Barnes said: “That’s a great wage for our students to earn and start providing for themselves and their families, to again, break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient adults.”

To be able to expand their current programs and add others, they have partnered with Banov Architects to completely reconfigure the 8,600-square-foot facility, currently a maze-like warren filled with wasted space.

Plans call for a commercial kitchen and dining room, multipurpose rooms with dividing walls, a workshop for in-house vocational training, a state-of-the-art technology center, a library and tutoring wing, an outdoor terrace, garden, and an outdoor play area.

“We are going to completely gut the interior of the building and start from scratch,” said Barnes.

Attorney Brian Connelly spoke emotionally about his own experience where, as the first YG mentee 49 years ago, he had been paired with a loving, stable family who provided the guidance he needed. Ten years ago, he and wife Laurie began mentoring two boys, now 18 and 19, and he described the rewards on both sides as “incredible.”

“I firmly believe that breaking that cycle that is quicksand for so many kids in poverty is exactly what Youth Guidance does for the kids today,” said Connelly, encouraging donations to the organization.

“Its goals are doable. They’re not pipe dreams.”

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