Helping area youth overcome their anxieties

The Oxford Addison Youth Assistance office is run by caseworker Stacy Williams (right) and Amanda Cavanaugh. Photo by D. Rush

OAYA is 60 years old

By Don Rush

When students in Oxford schools are having issues one local resource to help them out is Oxford Addison Youth Assistance (OAYA) and it’s been that way since January 1963.

Youth Assistance was started in 1953 and has grown to have 26 offices throughout Oakland County – one office for every school district. The OAYA office is located at Oxford Middle School, across from the band room, but it’s not just for middle school-aged students. OAYA is for children 17 and younger. It is supported by both villages of Oxford and Leonard, Oxford and Addison townships, Oxford Community Schools and Oakland County Circuit courts. Currently Oxford has one Youth Assistance case worker with a caseload of over 90 families. That caseworker is Stacy Williams. She has been in the district since September when Oxford agreed to have a full time, versus part time case worker. Prior to Oxford, Williams was a caseworker in Waterford for seven years.

First, I am a short-term counselor. Families get referred to me for a number of reasons,” she said. “We are about prevention, if a child is having mental health concerns, anxiety, depression or trouble with following parents’ rules and expectations. The schools can refer a student for incorrigibility, which means not following school rules, academically struggling, not engaged in classes, peer conflicts and truancy.”

The organization, she said, also helps kids stay out of the court system.

This part deals with the police department and prosecutor’s office. We’re trying to keep them away from court. Those referrals might be because a child has substance abuse, assault and battery, retail fraud, stealing and domestic violence.”

Instead of going through the court system the family is referred to Williams. If the family agrees, she will assess what is going on with the child, if there are underlying challenges the family faces. “Then we come up with a treatment plan,” she said. “They will work with me on those issues, and then maybe will find long-term counseling and other community resources – like if a family is having financial difficulties we can find ways to help them pay their rent or mortgages, or electric bills. Sometimes there is food insecurity at home and sometimes they need clothing assistance.”

While families are referred to OAYA, they can choose not to receive assistance — it’s strictly voluntary for them to participate.

OAYA programs are run by a board of directors made of representatives from the sponsoring government entities and community volunteers. “With my help they assess the community needs with the goal to develop prevention programming and interventions,” she said.

COVID, Williams said, made working with students and families “challenging.” “It was hard to keep families engaged, especially kids over the computer. Also kids were limited to what they would tell us because other family members or parents were in the background. Referrals were down, because the schools were done remotely. We didn’t have eyes on the students like when they were in school,” she said. “During COVID some of our volunteers and programming were cut back. And, because I am a court employee, I have to follow court rules. We didn’t return back to our office until this past August. We couldn’t see students and families in person or engage our volunteers. We lost a lot of volunteers.”

Volunteers meet to plan programs. Some of the programs include skill building, camp scholarships (for families who need financial help can send their child to participate in overnight and day camps, sports, art and credit recovery classes) Shop With A Hero in December, and in-school presentations. They also have family and youth education programs, she said. “That is where we look at trends, try to educate and spread awareness to kids and parents. Trends like bullying prevention, school anxiety, child abuse and neglect awareness. We bring in speakers to talk about those topics. We hope to give parents more tools in their tool box with love and logic parenting classes.”

This month, they will present a Shoplifting Prevention program for all eighth graders. “We have a volunteer who was a former loss prevention officer at Great Lakes Mall. He will talk about retail fraud and the consequences of shoplifting,” she said.

On May 12 they will have a Youth Recognition Awards Luncheon for those students who give back to the community. The luncheon will be at Seymour Lake Township Park. “Parents love this event,” she said. Starting next month students will be nominated for the awards by their churches, local community members, counselors and teachers. Last year 19 students from kindergarten through seniors were awarded.

Williams enjoys working in Oxford. “It’s a very welcoming community, very down-to-earth,” she said. “It’s friendly and they like to take care of their own. Oxford has been very supportive.”

To learn more about OAYA or to volunteer visit their website and sign up for their newsletter. “We’re looking for people who are passionate about helping kids and are willing to volunteer one to 10 hours of their time a month.”


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