Partner Spotlight: Midwest Youth Services
Strengthening and Restoring Families
Researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that rural youth homelessness is just as prevalent as homelessness in urban areas; however, in rural areas, youth experiences of homelessness are more likely to be hidden and these youth face unique challenges accessing education, jobs, services, and support.
“In our community of approximately 19,000 residents in downstate Illinois, we find that youth who have left home or been kicked out are often couch surfing,” explained Kayla Reno, RHY Program Supervisor at Midwest Youth Services in Jacksonville, IL. “We don’t see many young people living on the streets, which you might find in more urban settings, but there is certainly a significant need for our services.”
Without Midwest Youth Services (MYS), more youth would be on the streets and be targets for exploitation and crime. MYS provides 24 hours, 7-day-a-week crisis intervention, mediation, and emergency shelter to vulnerable children. Their mission is to divert youth from the juvenile justice and child welfare systems while helping to strengthen and restore families.
Using a Positive Youth Development approach, MYS provides community-based services that promote social, emotional, environmental, and developmental health and growth through prevention, intervention and treatment.
“We’re fortunate that our community is receptive to partnerships and education about runway and homeless youth issues,” said Audra Pilarte, Outreach Coordinator and Community Youth Services Liaison. “We work closely with the school principals and guidance counselors, healthcare professionals, businesses, law enforcement, and others to ensure we’re reaching kids in need.”
In 2021, MYS provided services to 213 youth. During National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM), they executed a very creative awareness-building effort when they distributed 213 green tea lights to community members to recognize these young people and remind all youth experiencing homelessness that they are not alone. This November, MYS will supply 295 tea lights to businesses and residents to place in windows, representing the 295 youth they have served in 2022.
The organization’s enthusiasm and creativity earned them the NRPM 2021 Greenest Team Award from the National Runaway Safeline and the Family & Youth Service Bureau (FYSB). To make the city truly glow green, they work with the Eli Bridge Company, manufacturer of Ferris wheels and other amusement rides, to light the Big Eli Ferris Wheel during the campaign. Additionally, they partner with the local police department on several NRPM activities; for one, on Wear Green Day, officers wear green socks, as socks are the No. 1 requested item in shelters. This November, they will provide community members with NRPM Commitment Cards, share information on social media, and conduct presentations at schools.
Midwest Youth Services continues to impress us with their RHY programs as well as their dedication to National Runaway Prevention Month. We are grateful to have MYS as a longtime partner in NRPM and can’t wait to see all that they do this year.
For more information about Midwest Youth Services, visit https://mys-kids.org/.
The National Runaway Safeline is thrilled to announce Jackie Barron as the January 2024 volunteer of the month. Jackie’s path to volunteering with NRS was paved with empathy and a desire to make a positive impact. Growing up in a challenging family environment, Jackie often found herself in the “fixer” role (having a keen sense of responsibility, often prioritizing the needs of other before her own), even at a young age. This understanding of adversity and resilience led her to seek out opportunities to give back, ultimately leading her to NRS.
As we step into a new year, January holds more than the promise of resolutions. It’s a clarion call to confront a pervasive crisis: Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This presidentially designated annual awareness campaign, led by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), unites youth-facing service providers and communities through education about human trafficking and the roles we all play in protecting vulnerable youth. The 2024 theme, “Activate Connections to Prevent Human Trafficking,” is a stark reminder: This fight isn’t for the solitary hero. It’s a collective struggle, demanding connections that safeguard and uplift those at risk or already ensnared in human trafficking’s grip.
It’s not often that a nonprofit organization is lucky enough to have long-term volunteers. Fortunately, the National Runaway Safeline (NRS) has been working with John P., our December 2023 Volunteer of the Month, for more than 12 years! John finds that volunteering provides a “meaningful connection with the human experience.” He recognizes something special in helping those in need and wonders why more people aren’t drawn to the fulfilling world of volunteering.