Ferndale Youth Assistance Sees Success in Supporting Kids

Ferndale Youth Assistance Sees Success in Supporting Kids

(Jack Higgins, Jan. 21, 2019)

Ferndale, Oak Park, Royal Oak Township, MI- In 1953, Dr. Wilfred D. Webb, former superintendent of Hazel Park schools, teamed up with Judge Eugene A. Moore, of the Oakland County Probate Court and the Sixth Circuit Court Family Division, to found Youth Assistance – a program determined to keep kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom.

65 years later, the program has grown into all 26 school districts in Oakland County, including Ferndale, where its mission is supported by individuals like Judge Joseph Longo and case worker Tasha Hanson.

For over 20 years, Judge Longo has served as the Vice Chair of Ferndale Youth Assistance, a program that grabbed him right away and never let go.

“My very first meeting was a pop-in,” says Judge Longo. “I immediately was impressed by what they were doing and how valuable it could be to a community.”

Similar to Judge Longo, Hanson’s association with Ferndale Youth Assistance was preceded by 19 years spent working in the court system, including time in the prosecutor’s office and probation court.

“I wanted to do prevention where I felt like I had more of an impact to get to the core root of things before it’s too late,” says Hanson.

In the interest of preventing problems before it may be too late, Ferndale Youth Assistance offers multiple programs including tutors and student enrichment, mentors, various camps, and casework services, which provide confidential, voluntary, short-term counseling for young people who can be referred by parents, school personnel, police officers or concerned citizens.

“The unofficial motto of Ferndale Youth Assistance is it is easier to build a child than it is to repair an adult,” says Judge Longo.

If authorities have already become involved, Ferndale Youth Assistance also offers diversionary services where low-level misdemeanors, such as shoplifting, are handled by Ferndale Youth Assistance. Constructed similar to probation, children that receive these services may undergo an intake assessment, community service, jail tours, and supplemental education on how their crime impacted their community, plus exposure to any resources that may be helpful. By sidestepping the court system, these first-time offenders are able to learn from their mistakes and truthfully say they have never been convicted of a crime.

“We have programs that help all kids, whether they are in trouble or they just plain need help growing up,” said Judge Longo.

However, both Hanson and Judge Longo are quick to make the same point:

“This isn’t a program just for bad kids,” says Judge Longo. “The reality is that Ferndale Youth Assistance has programs for everybody, whether your kid is a straight A student and never mumbles a swear word in their life or whether they’re just sort of making it through as a C or D student or your kid is someone who is constantly being contacted by the police.”

No matter what their background is, Ferndale Youth Assistance is just as passionate about recognizing these children as they are reconciling them.

“Youth recognition is huge,” says Hanson. “It’s a one-night event where we celebrate adversity that some of these children have overcome, or maybe they’ve even gone above and beyond within their own communities. . . it’s a feel-good moment where we celebrate the great kids that are the future of Ferndale.”

Among the most recent award winners was Anthony (Trey) Merriman who was recognized for efforts like volunteering with foster care Fairs for Vista Maria and by packing backpacks with care items each year.  He’s also part of  the Ferndale High School Football Teams Big Brothers Program.

Since 1970, Ferndale Youth Assistance has been molding and celebrating its youth, but Judge Longo believes efforts like this are now more important than ever.

“The difference now compared to then is life was slower,” says Judge Longo. “Now, if you lose a kid, you can lose them in a matter of weeks.”

Fortunately, Hanson and Judge Longo are graced with the assistance of volunteers who are just as passionate as they are, but more help could always be used.

“We’re not looking for money, just time and commitment,” says Judge Longo. “It’s amazing how many people spend an awful lot of hours helping us.”

A big event for Ferndale Youth Assistance is the Annual Ferndale Blues Festival which this years runs Jan. 25- Feb. 2.  CLICK HERE for more info!

For those interested in volunteering with Ferndale Youth Assistance, or for more information, visit www.ferndaleya.org or call their home office at (248) 586-8700.

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