Keeping kids safe

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    Christine Brown, early intervention advocate for the Westfield Youth Assistance program. (Photo by Theresa Skutt)
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    Edvin Cortex, a mentee of the WYAP, laughs with his mentor of six months, Chad Gross. (Photo by Anna Skinner)

Westfield Youth Assistance Program helps provide positive influences, keeps kids out of courts

By Anna Skinner

Yellow ties and yellow attire filled the Bridgewater Club on the evening of June 5.

It was Mayor Andy Cook’s annual Yellow Tie Ball, a fundraiser for the Westfield Youth Assistance Program.

Cook started the WYAP in 2009, with the thought to keep adolescents out of the juvenile justice system. The program was modeled after one in Oakland County, Mich. and, according to WYAP Early Intervention Advocate Christine Brown, there is no other program like these two in the nation.

“It is, without question, the most important project that this city is doing because it deals with our most important asset; our youth,” Cook said. “The Youth Assistance Program has grown beyond where we ever thought it would … we expect to see the Youth Assistance Program continue to help keep kids headed in the right direction.”

Westfield was the pilot for the program, but since 2009, the WYAP has advanced to Noblesville, Fishers, Sheridan and Hamilton Heights. A branch will be established in Carmel come July.

The program is most well known for the mentoring program, but they assist families in need with many other resources as well. Most referrals come to Brown through school councilors or the police department.

“I might help families connect with resources to get food, getting counseling, housing or maybe child needs positive role model, and I connect them with mentor or tutor,” Brown said. “It’s a wide range of services we assist our children and families with.”

Brown said that the mentors work with kids ages 3 to 17 1/2. WYAP also helps kids get involved with sports and the arts when they otherwise may not have been able to afford it.

Although the program does a few other, smaller fundraisers, the mayor’s Yellow Tie Ball is their signature fundraiser. The program does not have state or federal funding, and although a few small grants have been awarded, most of their funding is from private donations.

Many Westfield residents are active participants in the WYAP.

“As a 21-year Westfield resident, former foster parent and active volunteer of the Youth Assistance Program, I’m proud to live in a community that makes the children and youth a priority,” said Valerie Gross, a volunteer of the organization and resident of Westfield. “The mayor’s Yellow Tie Ball was an enjoyable evening to gather with other like-minded individuals to promote and celebrate a cause vital to our community.”

Once a child and their family’s needs are assessed, a child may be assigned a mentor. Mentors are required to meet with their assigned child once a week for at least a year. They pose as a positive role model in the child’s life.

“Westfield Youth Assistance gives opportunities to Westfield youth that might not ever get the chance to participate in sports, camps and the arts along with making sure that they have a positive role model in their life that might be a mentor, tutor, coach or camp leader,” Brown said.

More than $7,100 was raised at the Yellow Tie Ball, and tickets were sold out.

By the numbers

Referrals since 2009: 528

Program completion: 174

Current active youth: 87

Mentors trained: 67

Mentor hours spent with mentees: 6,613

High school volunteers this year: 58