CHANGING YOUNG LIVES
With the holiday season upon us, shopping, cooking and celebrating are in full swing.
And with The Oklahoma Standard always alive and well, many businesses and families will be looking for a way to give back to our less fortunate community members — especially our youth.
Enter Youth Services for Oklahoma County. Youth Services is a nonprofit organization that works with young people who are often homeless or couch-homeless, displaced, disconnected or otherwise at-risk. Almost all are young people who have too many barriers – with limited resources to overcome those barriers on their own.
For nearly 45 years, Youth Services for Oklahoma County has positively impacted the lives of thousands of children and their families every year.
“Our mission is ‘Changing Young Lives,’ and we do that one day at a time – one child at a time and, sometimes, one family at a time,” said Kami Kuykendall, Youth Services for Oklahoma County’s President and CEO. “We serve young people from 12 to 21 years of age, and our services are designed to foster self-esteem and resiliency, preserve and enrich family life, and instill a sense of community in children, families and the community-at-large.”
The agency provides food and shelter, counseling, mentoring, clothing, education and employment support, right here in our community. Some of the organization’s clients are homeless; others are involved with the criminal justice system, and they come to Youth Services to learn life skills that will help them alter the course of the path they are on. For these kids, Youth Services for Oklahoma County is a lifeline.
Recently, one of YSOC’s clients spoke about the impact the organization has had on her life.
Quaylin, who is now 18 and a student at the University of Central Oklahoma, came to YSOC during a childhood that included brief stays in several foster homes and separation from her only sibling. She received kindness from many of her foster parents, but she had a hard time adjusting to new family dynamics.
“I had been independent for so long,” Quaylin said. “When I would go to a new foster home, they (the foster parents) wanted me to fit in with their lives. It was hard to fit into a family that wasn’t mine. Every home meant a new room, a new religion … new everything.”
That changed when Quaylin came to the Youth Services for Oklahoma County’s youth shelter. There, she re-connected with Sonda, a no-nonsense worker at Youth Services who listened to Quaylin but accepted no excuses from her.
With Sonda’s guidance, Quaylin found a foster family who has given support through her latter teenage years. She still maintains a relationship with her biological mother, though she admits the two are more like friends than mother and daughter.
Quaylin recognizes that her path has been made possible by organizations and people who have accepted her as family when her own family could not.
“I’ve had help with food, clothes, graduation things (expenses) …” Quaylin said. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without that help. I want to give back. I don’t want to waste my chance.”
Youth Services hosts an annual Christmas party for the students they serve, providing holiday meals and gifts for their young clients. They hope to do that again this year, but they need community support to make that happen.
“Funding is down, but we are committed to serving these kids,” Kuykendall said. “Oklahomans are known for their generosity. They’ll come through for our young people again, just as they have for nearly 45 years now.”
If you would like to help by making a secure online donation, or learn more about Youth Services for Oklahoma County, visit www.ysoc.org.