Holly Area Youth Assistance Serves as Safety Net for Kids

Holly Area Youth Assistance Serves as Safety Net for Kids

(Mel Corrigan, Jan. 21, 2019)

Holly, MI – Tucked into a small office suite in the rear of Karl Richter Campus is Holly Area Youth Assistance (HAYA). HAYA was established in 1964 and has been serving students and families residing within the Holly Area School District (HASD) ever since. The mission of HAYA is to strengthen youth and families and to reduce the incidence of delinquency, abuse and neglect through community involvement.

According to Joann Schebil, Director of Dining Services, 43% of Holly Area School District students receive free or reduced-fee lunches, based on need determined by federal income guidelines. Tena Alvarado, president of HAYA’s Board of Directors, asserted, “Where there is a food need, there is a need for other support as well.” This is evidenced by HAYA’s caseload of seventy-six families in 2018 alone.

Ragen Rockwell, HAYA’s caseworker, explained that students are referred to HAYA often because of truancy, incorrigibility, or due to other concerns about the student’s well-being.

HAYA’s initiatives are aligned with the mission and developed by a self-governed board of ten members, which abides by the Oakland County Youth Assistance bylaws. HAYA offers casework services, camp scholarships, skill building scholarships, Family Education, the Mentors Plus program, Youth Involvement, the Musical Instrument Program, the School Supplies program, the Bob Warner Scholarship, and the Jacobson-Quinn Toy Project. These programs are made possible by a true community effort. Tena Alvarado relies on ten on-call volunteers and recruits additional volunteers from the police department, fire department and other city organizations as needed. It’s thanks to 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 is staffed by a secretary on Mondays and Tuesday, and by the caseworker, 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 caseworker’s salary. While Ragen works directly with HASD students and their families to provide support and growth opportunities, HAYA also offers services to the communities within Holly Area School District more broadly. From food to parenting support, HAYA is involved. Some local organizations who help HAYA are the local Kiwanis, Goodfellows, Churches and Holly police and fire departments (and many more).

It’s important to point out that a seventeen-year-old in trouble in the state of Michigan is tried in the adult system; there is no option for that child to enter the juvenile system. When a youth (age sixteen years or younger) exhibits a pattern of problematic behaviors, the opportunity to work with Ragen Rockwell and other members of HAYA gives that youth a chance to stay in school and graduate rather than possibly ending up in the juvenile system, which is often punitive.

HAYA works with youths on a referral basis, which means there is no direct sequence of events or set of metrics employed to discern when or why a given youth will be matched with HAYA versus moved into the Juvenile Justice system. There are two mechanisms by which youths are referred to HAYA: diversions from the courts or law enforcement, or referrals from the police department, school district, CPS or other individuals.

Ragen Rockwell is HAYA’s only caseworker. Her personal struggles at an early age inspired her with a passion to advocate for others, and from the early age of sixteen, Ragen knew she wanted to support youths in difficult circumstances. And she has been doing so for more than fifteen years. “It is my hope that my work with HAYA, and the work of the HAYA Board of Directors, makes the Holly area community a better place to live for everyone.”

Tena Alvarado became involved with youth services in 2007 after reading an article about HAYA. It really spoke to her; she was a teacher at the time and had a big heart for children. The article inspired her to contact HAYA. She went on to join the board and became a mentor. The vetting process for the Mentor Plus program included an application, background check and training. Tena was then matched with a young person whom she went on to mentor for eleven years.

Tena became very emotional when discussing her experience as a mentor and her connection with the student. She invested time with her mentee, consistently, for eleven years, and when they parted Tena made it clear that her door would remain open. Like Tena, all of the board members care deeply about the children in their community. Some of them have experienced difficult situations and have a passion for giving back.

As board president, Tena wants families to know that their community cares about them. Much of their programming extends beyond families for whom Ragen works with as part of her caseload. One example is the Love & Logic course that HAYA coordinated last year, which was available to all parents who reside within the HADS. HAYA’s board of directors applied for a grant from Walmart and used the funds to hire the instructor. They coordinated with personnel at Holly Elementary to host the event, and the PTO voluntarily offered refreshments to the attendants throughout 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 a greater good when we come together.”

And it’s true, they do accomplish a lot. The efforts of HAYA and community based support is very effective.

According to Oakland County Youth Assistance’s website, “Two three-year longitudinal studies have been conducted by independent contractors which determined that 92% of the families Youth Assistance works with do not go on to have additional court contact. It takes the combined efforts of everyone in the family to achieve this level of success, but the rewards are worth it.”

Simply put, prevention is much more cost-effective than the Juvenile Justice system. The numbers underscoring the economic impact of HAYA are clear. Based on 2014 data, one day in a state juvenile facility costs taxpayers $475; one day at Children’s Village costs $169. HAYA resources cost $2.50 per day. For the cost of one long weekend at Children’s Village, a family can receive four months of “family-focused counseling” from HAYA. Click here to read more figures related to the costs of the Juvenile Justice system.

HAYA is a valuable and effective service to the youths and families it serves. Supporting youths (and their families) who are in difficult situations is good for the whole community. Through the Mentors Plus Program, individuals have the opportunity to truly impact the child’s life and help a young person who is struggling to develop a sense of self-worth. If this speaks to you, contact the HAYA office to learn more about the Mentors Plus Program or how to become a volunteer. (Call 248-328-3181 or message through the HAYA Facebook page.)

Ragen Rockwell wants everyone to know that there are many resources available to those in need. She invites you to call HAYA if you are in need of assistance. Even if HAYA cannot work directly with you, she or the secretary can often recommend other resources or entities. To access other support resources, dial 211 or visit the Michigan 2-1-1 website.

Board of Directors meetings are held in the HAYA office conference room (Karl Richter campus, 920 Baird Street) on the first Thursday of the month beginning at 7pm. Guests are welcome and encouraged to attend!

Oakland is the only Michigan county that funds a Youth Assistance initiative. County-wide there are twenty-six local offices, each associated with a public school district. Find your local Oakland County Youth Assistance office here.

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