Spotlight on Ferndale Youth Assistance

Spotlight on Ferndale Youth Assistance

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 01/15/2012)

As far as communities go, Ferndale is one that looks out for its families.  Ferndale Youth Assistance is just one of many examples of grassroots efforts to keep kids happy, healthy, educated and safe.

The idea began in 1953 when Dr. Wilfred Webb and Judge Arthur Eugene Moore decided they wanted a way for the community to actively support children in the Hazel Park School District. They created Hazel Park Youth Assistance, a program so successful that other school districts in Oakland Copy soon after began their own.

Ferndale began its program in 1960 and it accomplishes many things, including a mentoring program between high school and elementary school students, referrals for assistance when kids are in trouble or in need, recognition and encouragement opportunities, classes for students and parents, delinquency intervention, and fundraising to send kids to camp.

It’s a collaborative effort that makes all these things possible.  Ferndale Schools provides an office, meeting space and funding.  Oakland County provides a social worker to manage FYA cases.  And in many of the programs the City provides funding.  “What I think is important is there are many stakeholders working together,” said Judge Joseph Longo of the 43rd District Court.  “Businesses from the Ferndale Area Chamber always jump in and help when we need them to and all the fundraising and volunteering that goes into making this happen.  We have been blessed to overcome the last few years and to be fiscally stable even in hard times.”

Longo has been involved in Youth Assistance since shortly after he took the bench 14 years ago.  He is also on the Board of the organization, along with over a dozen diverse members of the community.  “When I was appointed judge, Bob Lenaway, the owner of Lenny’s Copy Center, was the guru of FYA.  He was the chairman for years.  He got a hold of me and said ‘you’ve gotta check out this program,’ and I’ve been involved ever since.”

Longo said another thing he values is that the group’s focus is on all-children, not just the stereo-typical “troubled youth.”

“Our Annual Awards and Recognition Dinner is one example where we’ve got kids with straight A’s, star of the football team etc and kids that don’t have perfect grades but still does other good things and give them awards together for what they do,” he said.  “Maybe one girl doesn’t do so well in class, but she helps her neighbor take out her trash every week, or does some other thing well.  These kids may not get a lot of awards, but it tells them, and their parents, that their child is doing good things.  Everyone has something they can do, and programs like this encourage that in a positive way. It’s not just helping poor kids, it’s celebrating youth.

“One thing we like to say is it’s easier to build a child than to fix an adult, and I believe that is true.”

George Feld is another FYA Board Member, serving as the group’s Treasurer. “In the early 90’s I was Accounting Supervisor for the Schools and the Superintendent asked me to get involved.  I retired in 2003, but I still do the accounting for FYA as my way of giving back,” Feld said.

“When I was growing up in the 50s, I was able to go to Camp Ozanam, which is up in the thumb area, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I remember it all clearly and those are the memories you think about as you get older. I went to camp six times at no cost to my parents because of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Ferndale Youth Assistance is similar to that.  It’s a fun, educational experience they will remember in their old days.

Youth Assistance programs are now in 26 Oakland County School Districts.  In 1992 Michigan State University concluded a three year study that showed Youth Assistance had a 90% success rate, meaning that most students did not have contact with probate or circuit court after their use of FYA services.  In 2009 they helped 5,542 families county-wide and provided 104 mentors.  For more information about Youth Assistance, visit their website at

The Ferndale Youth Assistance is one of the charities that will benefit from the upcoming Bud Light Ferndale Blues and Music Festival.  The festival takes place Jan 27-Feb 4, 2012 at various Ferndale locations to raise money for FYA and Michigan AIDS Coalition.  The Bud Light Blues and Music Festival is our Charity of Choice for Jan 2012.  Read more about them and donate online at

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