Holly Area Youth Assistance serves as a safety net for children
Holly Area Youth Assistance serves as a safety net for children
(Mel Corrigan, January 21, 2019)
Holly, MI – Tucked away in a small office at the back of the Karl Richter campus is Holly Area Youth Assistance (HAYA). HAYA was established in 1964 and has served students and families residing in the Holly Area School District (HASD) ever since. HAYA’s mission is to strengthen youth and families and reduce the incidence of delinquency, abuse and neglect through community engagement.
According to Joann Schebil, director of food services, 43% of students in the Holly Area School District receive free or discounted lunches, depending on need determined by federal income guidelines. Tena Alvarado, Chair of the HAYA Board of Directors, said: “Where there is a need for food, there is also a need for other support. This is evidenced by the number of HAYA cases from seventy-six families in 2018 alone.
Ragen Rockwell, HAYA’s social worker, explained that students are often referred to HAYA due to absenteeism, incorrigibility or other concerns regarding the student’s well-being.
HAYA’s initiatives are mission-aligned and developed by an autonomous ten-member board of directors, which abides by the Oakland County Youth Assistance statutes. HAYA offers social assistance services, camp scholarships, skills building scholarships, family education, Mentors Plus program, youth participation, musical instrument program, school supplies program, the Bob Warner Scholarship and the Jacobson-Quinn Toy Project. These programs are made possible through a genuine community effort. Tena Alvarado relies on ten on-call volunteers and recruits additional volunteers from the police, fire department and other organizations in the city as needed. It is because of the caring and concerned board members and individuals from various organizations who come together that the needs of individuals in the Holly community are met.
The HAYA office has a secretary on Mondays and Tuesdays, and social worker Ragen Rockwell on Wednesdays, Thursdays and some Fridays. HAYA is responsible for acquiring the funds necessary to staff its secretary, and the Oakland County Circuit Court covers the social worker’s salary. While Ragen works directly with HASD students and their families to provide support and growth opportunities, HAYA also provides services to communities within the Holly Area School District more broadly. From food to parental support, HAYA is involved. Some local organizations that help HAYA are the local police and fire departments of Kiwanis, Goodfellows, Churches and Holly (and many more).
It is important to note that a troubled seventeen-year-old in the state of Michigan is tried in the adult system; there is no possibility for this child to enter the juvenile system. When a young person (aged sixteen or under) exhibits a pattern of problematic behaviors, the opportunity to work with Ragen Rockwell and other HAYA members gives that young person a chance to stay in school and get his graduation rather than ending up in the juvenile system, which is often punitive.
HAYA works with youth on a referral basis, which means there is no direct sequence of events or set of metrics used to discern when or why a given youth will be matched with HAYA versus juvenile justice system. There are two mechanisms by which young people are referred to HAYA: diversions from courts or law enforcement, or referrals from the police, school district, CPS or others.
Ragen Rockwell is HAYA’s only social worker. Her personal struggles at a young age inspired her with a passion to stand up for others, and by the age of sixteen Ragen knew she wanted to support young people in difficult circumstances. And she’s been doing it for over fifteen years. “I hope my work with HAYA and the work of the HAYA Board of Directors will make the Holly area community a better place for everyone to live.”
Tena Alvarado got involved in youth services in 2007 after reading an article on HAYA. It really spoke to him; she was a teacher at the time and had a big heart for children. The article prompted her to contact HAYA. She then joined the board of directors and became a mentor. The Mentor Plus program verification process included an application, background check and training. Tena was then matched with a youth she sponsored for eleven years.
Tena became very emotional when she spoke about her experience as a mentor and her connection to the student. She invested time with her mentee, consistently, for eleven years, and when they separated, Tena made it clear that her door would remain open. Like Tena, all board members care deeply about the children in their community. Some of them have been through difficult situations and have a passion to give back.
As chair of the board, Tena wants families to know their community cares about them. Much of their programming extends beyond the families Ragen works for as part of his workload. One example is the Love & Logic course that HAYA coordinated last year, which was available to all parents who reside within HADS. The HAYA board of directors applied for a grant from Walmart and used the funds to hire the instructor. They coordinated with the staff at Holly Elementary to organize the event, and the PTO voluntarily provided refreshments to participants for the duration of the course.
This is an example of why Tena Alvarado said: “It is rewarding to work with community organizations and individuals who partner with HAYA because they realize that we can accomplish greater good when we come together.
And it’s true, they accomplish a lot. HAYA’s efforts and community support are very effective.
According to the Oakland County Youth Assistance website, “Two three-year longitudinal studies were conducted by independent contractors which determined that 92% of families that Youth Assistance works with do not have additional contact with the court. It takes the combined efforts of all family members to achieve this level of success, but the rewards are well worth it. “
Simply put, prevention is much more cost effective than the juvenile justice system. The figures highlighting the economic impact of HAYA are clear. According to 2014 data, a day in a state juvenile facility costs taxpayers $ 475; a day at the children’s village costs $ 169. HAYA resources cost $ 2.50 per day. For the price of a long weekend at the Children’s Village, a family can receive four months of HAYA “family-oriented counseling”. Click here to read more figures on the costs of the juvenile justice system.
HAYA is a valuable and efficient service for the youth and families it serves. Supporting young people (and their families) who are going through difficult situations is good for the whole community. Through the Mentors Plus program, individuals have the opportunity to have a real impact on the life of the child and to help a young person who is struggling to develop a sense of self-worth. If that sounds like you, contact the HAYA office to find out more about the Mentors Plus program or how to become a volunteer. (Call 248-328-3181 or send a message through the HAYA Facebook page.)
Ragen Rockwell wants everyone to know that there are many resources available for those who need them. She invites you to call HAYA if you need to assistance. Although HAYA cannot work with you directly, she or the secretary can often recommend other resources or entities. For other support resources, call 211 or visit the Michigan 2-1-1 website.
Board meetings are held in the conference room of the HAYA office (Karl Richter Campus, 920 Baird Street) on the first Thursday of the month starting at 7:00 p.m. Guests are welcome and encouraged to attend!
Oakland is the only county in Michigan that funds a youth relief initiative. County-wide, there are twenty-six local offices, each associated with a public school district. Find your local Oakland County Youth Support Office here.
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