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OCO’s YES! Program Reaching Out During Runaway Prevention Month

Submitted Article

FULTON, NY – In recognition of November being National Runaway Prevention Month, OCO’s Youth Emergency Services (YES!) Program has been busy spreading the word and educating the community on the issue of homeless youth in Oswego County and the services that YES! offers to help combat these issues and provide assistance to those in need.

Youth Specialist Danielle Cloonan (right) of OCO’s Youth Emergency Services program and Codie Shaw play Foosball at the Hannibal Drop-In Center. Located in the basement of Kenney Middle School, the center is open Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m.
Youth Specialist Danielle Cloonan (right) of OCO’s Youth Emergency Services program and Codie Shaw play Foosball at the Hannibal Drop-In Center. Located in the basement of Kenney Middle School, the center is open Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m.

Each year, OCO’s YES! program provides services to hundreds of homeless youth in Oswego County.

In 2007, more than 250 youth contacted the program’s 24-hour hot line with more than 230 receiving basic needs services such as food, clothing and shelter as well as on-going case support services.

One of the most effective programs offered through OCO’s Youth Services is its Street Outreach Services (SOS).

Acting as a bridge to engage youth in services they may not be aware of or are reluctant to seek, SOS provides street involved youth with information about services that are available to them and offers them the assistance they need to address their unique situation.

SOS combines the efforts of the Street Outreach Team with youth drop-in centers to offer a unique and effective way to reach youth with important information that can have a positive impact on their lives.

Street Outreach Team members combine fliers, posters and personal contact to reach youth in Fulton, Oswego, Hannibal, Mexico, Phoenix, Sandy Creek, and Pulaski.

In addition, SOS has established drop-in centers in Hannibal (in the basement of Kenney Middle School, Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m.) and Mexico (in the Wilcox Memorial Center, Spring Street, Tuesdays from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.) where youth can spend time after school and play games, socialize, participate in arts and crafts, go on outings and much more.

Last year, the SOS team contacted more than 1,400 youth throughout Oswego County and hosted two special events to help raise awareness of homelessness in Oswego County.

“In September, we hosted our first ever ‘Playing For Poverty’ event at the War Memorial in Fulton,” said Kristin LaBarge, coordinator of the YES! Program. “Thanks to the support we received from area musicians and local businesses ‘Playing For Poverty’ was a tremendous success as we raised awareness of the homeless problem in our county, collected some much needed food supplies for our area food pantries and provided youth with an exciting afternoon of music and fun.”

During the summer OCO Youth Services also hosted a ‘couch surfing’ event that served to educate the community.

“We wanted to show teens and the community how homelessness looks in Oswego County,” said LaBarge.  “In Oswego County homelessness is not so much people living on the street and sleeping in boxes. For homeless youth in Oswego County it’s going from friend to friend or relative to relative, couch to couch as they attempt to find a place to stay.”

To help get that message across, LaBarge and other OCO Youth Services staff addressed community members and spent the night on couches in front of the YMCA and Believers Chapel.

“We were happy with the results from both of these events and are looking forward to doing more of these types of events in the future,” she said.

During the month of November the YES! Program’s Street Outreach Team has been busy speaking with area organizations, social clubs, businesses, faith organizations and other community groups as they strive to educate the public about the issues facing runaway and homeless youth and educating the community about possible solutions to the problem and the role they can play in preventing youth from running away.

LaBarge urges community members to help our youth and actively become involved in the prevention of runaway youth.

“There are a number of things that we can do as individuals to help alleviate the problem of runaway youth in Oswego County,” said LaBarge.

The following are examples of actions that can make a real difference:

Listen to teens. Give them information and support. If they are considering running away, remind them that it can help to talk to someone.

Make sure they have the OCO YES! 24-hot hotline number, 342-7618 or toll-free at 1-877-342-7618.

Report abuse and neglect.

Become an OCO Youth Services volunteer by calling 342-7532.

Support OCO YES! with donations of goods or money.

Become a host home, providing temporary shelter for youth in need.

When the prevention efforts don’t work, YES! provides support through volunteer host home families.

These families open up their homes to youth that have runaway or have nowhere else to go.

OCO YES! works with the youth to reconcile with families whenever possible and to empower the youth to make the correct choices.

Currently YES! has four certified host home families and access to six beds.

However, LaBarge is looking to see that number increase in the near future.

“Last month, the YES! program was honored to receive a special Rural Host Home Grant, one of only 10 awarded in the United States. We are very excited about our selection and are looking forward to enhancing and expanding our host home program and making more beds available for homeless youth,” she said.

LaBarge said that host home families have found that being a host home is a very rewarding experience and are happy that they are able to provide non-judgmental support and a safe home-like environment to youth that are in need.

“All of our Host Home families are trained by OCO YES! staff and are certified through the New York State Office of Children and Family Services,” said LaBarge. “Anyone interested in becoming a host home should contact Alissa Bush at OCO Youth Services, 342-7532.”

For more information on OCO’s Youth Emergency Services program, or to have a representative speak to your group or organization, call LaBarge at 342-7532.

OCO Youth Emergency Services (YES!) is funded by the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, through the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

OCO Inc. is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966.

OCO, Inc. is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member agency.

For more information, visit www.oco.org