Outreach adapts at youth organizations


As COVID-19 changes protocols for many across the country, youth organizations in Dubois County are adapting their outreach.

Mentors For Youth

Ellen Corn, executive director of Mentors For Youth, believes the children in her program need their mentors now more than ever.

She explained that the local organization — which fosters one-on-one mentoring services between youth and volunteers for the purpose of enhancing individual lives and the community — has moved from in-person bonding to virtual avenues of meeting up that include everything from video calls and social media to phone calls and text messages.

“So, our mentors are still connected with their mentees,” she explained. “Right now, the mentees need their mentors more than anything because they’re isolated from their friends and teachers and other people that they have been connected with as well.”

Normally, mentees between the ages of 6 and 14 and their partners meet for a minimum of four hours each month. They participate in fun activities with each other, with the mentors helping to build a repertoire of skills in the youth that will help them succeed as adults.

Corn said that some of the 70 or so kids matched up in the program have families that either don’t speak English or struggle to use technology, so the mentors have also been helping the students adjust to and complete their online learning activities.

The kids also need to talk about their feelings. Many of the mentees have problems with peer relationships, and so still maintaining a positive connection with their mentors gives them a chance to vocalize concerns that are bothering them as a pandemic sweeps across the globe.

Even though how the nonprofit’s functions have changed, the mission is still the same: to help the kids reach whatever goals of personal growth they have decided to pursue with their mentors.

“It’s still helping them express their emotions and things that they may be struggling with,” Corn said. “So, we’re still hitting the same keys that they may be struggling with. And focusing on the goal that was set up with their match.”

Dubois County Court Appointed Special Advocates

Dubois County Court Appointed Special Advocates has also moved its one-on-one meetings online. CASA volunteers are trained to represent the best interests of children who are part of the court system due to abuse or neglect, and they meet monthly with their kids to check in.

Deena Hubler, the local organization’s director, explained that CASAs are appointed by the Dubois County Circuit Court to provide an objective view of a case and to advocate for the best outcome for the child they represent. Once cases end, so do their interactions.

Typically, CASA volunteers visit their kids face-to-face once every 30 days, and even though social distancing precautions are changing life across the country, the need to see children in need doesn’t go away.

Though they are still allowed to visit and speak with kids outside their homes and from a safe distance, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime have mostly taken the place of those in-person visits and can still show if a child is healthy. But new hurdles have arisen with their implementation.

“We’re limited in the fact that people don’t always call us back to help us make those connections that we need to make,” Hubler explained of the challenges that can arise with the new system.

She later added that CASA is also limited because when speaking to a child remotely, there could be someone sitting next to them when a volunteer talks to them, making it more likely they won’t feel free and open to chat with their advocate.

Because they aren’t going into homes, the CASAs also don’t get the full picture of the environments the children are living in. Some of the kids respond well to the online interactions, while others have approached it with hesitation.

But the advocates form close relationships with their clients, and those relationships are persisting.

“These kids look forward to their CASAs,” Hubler said. “They look forward to seeing them and they know it’s somebody they can talk to, and they know it’s somebody that’s going to be quiet and listen.”

Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition

Face-to-face encounters are very much still part of operations at the Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition. SWICACC embraces a multi-disciplinary team approach to investigating alleged crimes against children and interviewing child witnesses to violent crimes.

“Child abuse is an emergency issue,” said Tammy Lampert, the organization’s director. “So, we still see kids. If there are cases where the child is safe and the abuse occurred, maybe a couple years ago or something like that, we want to make sure that the kids know that we still think that it’s a very urgent matter, however, to triage cases and to keep contact at a minimum, those cases are being scheduled out.”

When children come in on reports of maltreatment, the group of people they interact with is small. Being in the same room with the kids is important, Lampert explained, because it makes it more comfortable for them. SWICACC plans on doing that for as long as they can, with proper safety precautions in place.

Some aspects of SWICACC’s operations have changed, though.

Only one non-offending caregiver can come to the advocacy center with their child, operations have been centralized to only one of the group’s four locations, and social distancing is being practiced in the space, which is regularly disinfected and sanitized.

April is typically big for the center because it is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month. A popular fundraiser is usually held during the month, which generates conversations that increase awareness about both child abuse and the center.

In place of that fundraiser, the organization is planting blue pinwheels in front yards. Readers can visit SWICACC’s Facebook page to fill out a form to have one placed.

The Herald has compiled a list of local nonprofits that may be seeking donations during this time of COVID-19. That list can be found here.

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