Youth Assistance continues support through the pandemic

By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Leader
Many of Oxford-Addison Youth Assistance (OAYA) programs have been suspended. Caseworker Karen Wonsowicz works remotely, as directed by the non-profit’s sponsor, Oakland County Circuit Court.
But she is still readily available, making frequent contact with her clients over Zoom or phone calls. She shares resources and support for parents, with information on dealing with stress and anxiety, and activity packets to keep kids engaged.

Karen Wonsowicz

As a way to stay connected over the summer, OAYA held a “conquering quarantine photo contest” featuring what activities or projects kids are up to. The winners are featured on the website. And OAYA helped send some kids to day camp, through Echo Grove Salvation Army Camp in Leonard.
Now that school is starting again, Wonsowicz has contacted each of her clients to see how she can assist them with getting back to school, whether they chose to go back in-person or virtually. OAYA helped supply one family with gift cards so they could do their back-to-school shopping.
Her caseload is hovering between 30 and 35 clients. That’s a little less than normal. Usually, she gets a handful of truancy cases (students struggling with attendance) toward the end of the school year. But the school year was cut short this spring and virtual attendance was not enforced.
“Now, for the kids who are choosing virtual, there are ways to make sure they are actually participating,” Wonsowicz said. “Virtual school is just as important, that’s your tool to learn what you need to advance.”
The volunteer board is exploring other things it can do since the usual programs like Youth Rec are canceled this year. “We have meetings scheduled this month for our executive board and we’ll be discussing what kind of programing we can do this fall. That’s something the volunteers are very involved in, doing the programing. So we’ll be brainstorming together.”
One program they are finishing up is virtual parenting classes, which will be announced through the school district. Anyone can sign up for them. “Some of it is on dealing with the change due to Covid and how they’re handling it and how kids feel about it. Just helping parents with the fact that their kids are on technology a lot more and making sure that they try to balance that a little bit, which is also hard for (parents) because they’re trying to work too.”

Photo contest winner Edith tending her family’s beehives. “Our family has been beekeeping for four years now,” explained her mother, Rebekah. “With so much time at home over the last several months, Edith (age 7) showed a real interest in learning how to care for our buzzing friends. We had two new hives to install, this spring, and Edith’s job was to lightly spray the bees with sugar water so that they temporarily cannot fly away while we’re getting them into their new homes. We use brushes like the one pictured to keep bees clear of the edges when we’re moving and setting up boxes. Edith went right to work and while she was a little nervous at first to be surrounded by so many bees, she showed great courage and listened to everything her dad said as we worked through the hives together. We always leave plenty of honey for the bees to feed on through the winter, but we suspect a large harvest in a few weeks as our bees have been very busy!”

Working remotely has been challenging for Wonsowicz. “I love to see the kids that I work with. My office is in the middle school, I see the kids, especially the ones that are middle schoolers even during the day sometimes they’ll stop by. And it’s just hard to have phone conversations or Zoom meetings with them now. But hopefully sooner than later we’ll be back in there.”
Oxford-Addison Youth Assistance was established in January 1963. It is a volunteer-driven 501C(3) non-profit organization, and one of 26 Youth Assistance programs in Oakland County.
Youth Assistance is a community-based program whose mission is to strengthen youth and families and to prevent and reduce delinquency, neglect, and abuse through community involvement. Youth Assistance initiatives are supported by a unique tri-sponsorship agreement between the Circuit Court, local school districts, and local municipalities.

Conquering Quarantine Photo Contest winner Keagan with Cinnamon the cow at Upland Hills Farm. Keagan’s mother works at the farm and Keagan goes to work with her whenever there is no school (especially during the while COVID lockdown in the spring) and throughout the summer. She helps do the daily animal chores and is referred to as ‘Farmer Keagan.’ She helps bring in the cows, goats, sheep and alpacas in/out of the pastures, milk the cows, collects chicken eggs, feeds the goats, sheep and pigs. She spends lots of time cuddling the kittens and will occasionally help with the litter boxes.

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