Making the impossible possible

(photo courtesy of Youth Advantage)

(photo courtesy of Youth Advantage)

Youth Advantage has been serving low-income students since 2009, giving them opportunities they would’ve never had without being able to take advantage of the scholarships the organization offers.

After volunteering in Dawn’s Closet at Valley Outreach and taking a verbal poll of clients there, Youth Advantage Executive Director Suzanne Block realized the children weren’t usually able to take advantage of the extracurricular activities that her children could. She wanted to change that. So she started creating a business plan and meeting with other area organizations.

Youth Advantage helps provide scholarships and equipment for low-income students so they can participate in extracurricular activities like athletics, arts and educational enrichment opportunities.

“We’ve teamed with 20 partner organizations, and most of them match our scholarship money,” Block said. “And money we do get is 100 percent donation
driven,  and our partners really realize the value of what we’re doing.”

“Our goal is for these students to have no barriers that prevent them from participating in these things that are so important to kids as they grow up,” Youth Advantage spokesperson Glenda Bjorum said. “These activities really elicit a passion, help them with discipline and give them the opportunity to participate in something outside of school.”

The group continues to increase its scholarship payouts by 50 percent each year with a client growth that seems to be leveling off.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t more kids that need some help but simply that more education has to take place,” Block said.

“A lot of the parents that come through us don’t understand how important it is for children to be involved in these activities, the impact they have on their psyche, or their passions,” Bjorum said. “They provide a good peer group, discipline, and they help keep kids out of trouble. Kids that are involved in extracurricular activities are less likely to cause trouble, and it’s good for the community to have kids involved in the activities.”

Youth Advantage also aims to connect with other people in the community who have an impact on the kids it serves. Block shared a story of how a couple of boys who came through Youth Advantage were having some issues in school. The boys’ dream was to play organized hockey, so Youth Advantage set them up on a team and worked with the school district and the coach to make sure that if the boys acted up in class they’d hear about it on the ice as well. Block added that when that partnership began, the behavior issues in the classrooms began to lessen, which benefited all involved.

Youth advantage provides athletic equipment to children, and also musical instruments. More than 40 children this year are using instruments from Youth Advantage, and they have the capability to serve 40 more.

“Our community has such big hearts,” Block said. “At one point our shelves were empty, and word got out that we were helping kids, and they just filled up. People in our community would much rather see their items given to people who really need them.”

Despite the community’s generosity, with the organization’s 50 percent increase in scholarships each year, Block said keeping up with the necessary funding and finding new sources of funding are imperative. The group has begun a letter-writing campaign seeking more funds so it doesn’t have  to cut services in  the first quarter of 2014.

Youth Advantage’s major fundraising event is called Dance and Dazzle. It’s at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31 in the Grand Ballroom, 301 2nd Street S., Stillwater.
Tickets cost $75 include a gourmet dinner, dancing, live and silent auctions and a midnight champagne toast. Go to youthadvantage.org to learn more about the organization or to purchase tickets for the event.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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