Supporting Our Older Youth
The Villages Older Youth Services Program (OYS) has maintained its personal level of service with participants despite restrictions related to COVID-19. In March when shelter-in-place orders took effect, Older Youth Services staff acted quickly to adapt services to virtual meetings, daily calls and socially distanced drive-by chats to ensure support continued for older youth and young adult participants.
OYS provides vital support for its 400 participants. The program serves youth in foster care, ages 16 to 23, helping them with managing high school, college entrance applications, and job placement.
“My biggest concern was what we could miss (during the stay-at-home order). I was concerned about technology (access),” said Millie McDonald, Director of Older Youth Services. “For many of these youth, we are their lifeline.”
Through philanthropy and community grants, virtual support has been critical to staying connected. OYS provided laptops, cell phones and/or Wi-Fi to participants who did not have the necessary technology. Face-to-face meetings changed to virtual visits. To add fun and lighten the mood, each OYS office/team coordinates a virtual workshop, such as a cooking class or Yoga.
A major event that brought big smiles was drive-by visits by OYS staff to participants who graduated high school in May. Each graduate was surprised with a basket of supplies, including gift cards. Staff and participants also celebrated former OYS participant Erson Lazare who became a U.S. citizen in August.
Fernanda, a sophomore at Goshen College, said she is grateful that OYS services continued through the state restrictions for COVID-19. The 18-year-old has participated in The Villages OYS program for almost two years and looked forward to face-to-face meetings with staff each month. She says continuing that interaction virtually was “just as personal. They really didn’t miss a bea
She says The Villages is like family. “Every person at The Villages puts so much effort to making us feel loved,” said Fernanda. “They don’t let anyone feel forgotten, alone hurt. Their support definitely makes a difference.”
Support Older Youth Services by donating gift cards (Walmart, Target, Kroger, Uber, or gas cards), supplies for a new apartment, and small mixers or slow cookers for ongoing cooking classes coordinated by OYS leaders. Contact Millie McDonald, MMcDonald@villages.org, to donate.