Monroe County organizations provide support, services and mentorship to children and young adults

Several organizations in the Monroe County area serve youth seeking support and enrichment. These organizations provide shelter, mentorship and after-school activities.

Safe Place of Monroe County, a division of the national organization Safe Place, is a community-wide outreach service for at-risk youth in crisis. Program coordinator Brigitt Nasby said the program focuses primarily on helping people who are homeless and those diagnosed with mental illness by providing shelter and counseling to young people in need. Although the program is primarily aimed at youth ages 10-17, Safe Place can also help those ages 18-22 create a safety plan and connect to long-term resources. The Monroe County program, operated by the Youth Service Bureau, has operated since 1987.

To use Safe Place services, people between the ages of 10 and 22 can look for yellow and black Safe Place signs in the windows of local businesses and community facilities, Nasby said. Once inside, they can go up to a staff member and let them know they want to use Safe Place. This staff member will then call the Youth Services Bureau, which will send a program coordinator or counselor to speak with the person.

Nasby said there are approximately 90 Safe Place locations in Monroe County.

[Related: Local shelter makes plans to support the unhoused community with onsite care]

After contacting Safe Place, Nasby said, children often opt to stay at the Youth Services Bureau’s Binkley House Emergency Youth Shelter, which offers short-term emergency programs for homeless and troubled youth. of crisis. However, Nasby said the program gives young people a voice in how they get help. They can choose to only get advice through Safe Place or ask for help contacting law enforcement. They are also free to seek additional support elsewhere.

“We advocate with young people, we advocate for them, but alongside what they think as well,” Nasby said.

She said she encourages students to volunteer with Safe Place and refer it to those who might need it.

“It’s that community feeling of looking out for each other,” Nasby said. “Whether you plan to use it or not, having this resource is always a good thing.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is another organization available to youth in the Monroe County area. In Big Brothers Big Sisters, children and youth ages 6 to 18, known as “Little Ones,” are paired with “Big Brothers,” adult mentors who volunteer to provide companionship and guidance through activities like playing games, visiting the library, or talking and catching up. another.

Elizabeth Mascharka is a fund development and marketing specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Indiana. She said children enter the program for a variety of reasons – some may need a trusted adult in their life or a safe space to attend after school, for example, or may be an only child. looking for friendship.

“We just see that there’s such a range of adversities that individuals come in with, and we want to be that safe, accommodating space no matter what someone is going through or going through, if anything,” Mascharka said. .

She said there are currently more than 250 children either already matched or waiting to be matched with the program, she said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is also developing a “Big Futures” program, which provides mentoring for people up to age 24. An extension of the standard mentorship, Big Futures allows “Little Ones” who are over 18 while on the program to receive support with questions. such as education, financial literacy and career development as they transition to adulthood.

As part of their volunteering, the “Big Ones” are required to devote two to four hours a month to their “Little One” for at least a year. However, Mascharka said, many mentoring relationships continue for years. She said one-on-one mentoring helps build trust and fosters closer relationships than is often possible in group settings.

“You’re able to have real conversations with your Big and with your Little and kind of create a space that feels like a closer relationship compared to having one person talking to a group as a whole and you feel like you weren’t necessarily being heard,” Mascharka said.

When not in school, young children and K-12 youth can attend Bloomington Boys and Girls Clubs, which offer after-school programs and full-day camps during break times.

[Related: Monroe County Youth Services Bureau sets out to reduce truancy, substance abuse]

Courtney Payne-Taylor, director of operations at BGC Bloomington, said the organization typically offers more than 70 different programs in any given year, including music, sports, health and wellness programs. and leadership.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have left many children struggling with learning loss, Payne-Taylor said. Boys and Girls Clubs also provide academic support, working with local school systems to align the subjects the organization teaches children after school with the material they learn in school.

Leslie Abshier, director of resource development, said participating in multiple extracurricular activities usually means families have to take the time to drive around town and spend a lot of money. Many kids attend Boys and Girls Clubs, she said, because it gives them access to several different programs every day in one place for a $20 a year membership.

Some of the most memorable moments, Payne-Taylor said, are watching children come out of their shells as they participate in BGC Bloomington activities.

“Finding their voice, feeling more comfortable with their peers in the club, developing better adult relationships,” she said. “We really see these moments regularly.”

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