Walk into most YMCA locations and you can expect many of the same features: high ceilings, a pool, a basketball court, a fitness center, and an array of options for group activities. Of course, YMCAs also have their own unique programs or features that set them apart or tie them in with the local community. For the YMCA of Orange County, it’s the Foster Youth Mentoring Program.
What began as a general service for youth at risk in the early 1980s eventually evolved into the Foster Youth Mentoring Program, which now provides academic mentoring, community-based mentoring, and monthly “Funday” activities for youth ages of 6 to 17 who are in foster care. For its work with youth at risk, the YMCA of Orange County was recognized as a 2013 Community Partner of The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation.
“We were honored and overjoyed that our passion for these kids and families is shared and recognized by a prominent organization like The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation,” said Michelle Byerly, program director at the YMCA of Orange County. “With additional funding like this, we are able to impact more families and provide meaningful activities, family support, and respite.”
The program has been operating in its current format since 2002 and relies on generous volunteers who are looking to make a difference in the lives of children. Each year, the program gives over 100 children the opportunity to have a positive adult role model in their lives. Byerly and her staff also partner with the local Department of Children and Family Services and other outside foster care agencies to reach families looking for support.
In particular, Byerly says that the grant money has gone toward providing additional academic mentors and case-management support for children in Orange County. They’ve established a goal of lowering the school dropout rate among foster youth in their community. In addition, they have collaborated with the Department of Social Services to establish a kinship care support group. This group provides a safe and fun place for foster children to attend while their caregivers are given a chance to receive support from peers.
With the help of the grant and the support of over 96 volunteers, 2013 was a successful year in which they were able to achieve the following:
- Serve 101 children, giving them a positive experience with supportive and committed adult mentors
- Provide over 1,100 hours of respite/relief care to support foster families
- Hold 13 FunDays, including one family event and trips to bowling alleys, ice rinks, hockey games, and baseball games
- Provide over 100 hours of tutoring to help children achieve academic success and see the importance of education from an adult they trust
“The Foster Youth Mentoring program has continued to provide monthly days of respite with consistent volunteers,” Byerly said. “It has been a strong source of support for families in our community.”