United Way redefines youth program

HANCOCK COUNTY — After 25 years, Youth as Resources has dissolved as its organizers shift their young adult program from funding student-led projects to coordinating volunteer efforts for young philanthropists.

Since 1992, Youth as Resources has provided roughly $10,000 annually to offset costs for youth community service efforts — grants usually averaged a few hundred dollars — under the umbrella of United Way of Central Indiana. In recent years, United Way leaders decided young adults would be better served through interactive volunteer programs. Instead of supporting independent projects, the nonprofit now coordinates volunteer opportunities that educate the county’s young people about community needs while helping them tackle local problems through service, said United Way of Central Indiana Hancock County area director Paula Jarrett.

Though the new youth engagement program has fewer dollars to spend — Hancock County is allotted $2,500 annually — officials said the strategy to pair United Way staff members directly with youth will have more impact on the community in the long run.

“Instead of just writing a check to a youth group, we are there, teaching the youth how to be philanthropic, and we hope that stays with them for a lifetime,” Jarrett said.

Jeannie Roberts, local director of volunteer engagement and former head of Youth as Resources, created a plan to encourage hands-on participation in community service, starting by working alongside the 50 students at the Academy at Greenfield-Central, an alternative school for students at risk of dropping out.

The alternative school requires students to take on volunteer projects as part of their education, said academy director Nathan Bruck.

That made the students the perfect audience for the youth engagement program, which combines activities that educate young adults about community needs with the opportunities for them to help tackle local problems.

Roberts led the academy students through a short poverty simulation — a group project that challenges participants to make choices about housing, health care, food, transportation and more with a limited amount of money. Students quickly saw how difficult it is for some families to make ends meet.

The volunteer projects seek to reinforce those lessons, Roberts said; in addition to going the the poverty simulation, the academy students volunteered at the local soup kitchen and homeless shelter, meeting Hancock County families facing those very challenges.

For students at the alternative school, developing leadership skills can be especially challenging, because at-risk students are often overlooked; now, they’ve had the opportunity to step up through several projects organized by the youth engagement program, Bruck said.

“They aren’t always the kids that are picked to be the group leader,” Bruck said. “But with this project, they see there are results that happen right away.”

Roberts said she’s grateful Youth as Resources lasted as long as it did but looks forward to finding new ways to connect with the area’s young people.

“We were very fortunate that United Way provided the program for such a long time,” Roberts said. “It was really a fabulous program, but we need to go in another direction to best serve the youth.”

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.