It was night of delicious food, wine and good conversation.
The 10th annual Youth First Community of Promise at Green Haven Banquet Center, Anoka, Nov. 8 was also a chance for the kids to see and talk to the people that support the program that is making a difference in their lives.
For Felipe Garcia, the program kept him focused on his school work over the last five years to graduate from high school.
The 19-year-old now has his sights set on college to study business.
“I want to open my own restaurant,” Garcia said.
Had Youth First not been here, Garcia would likely still be trying to finish high school, he said.
Garcia, who is working full-time and saving money for college, will be the first in his family to attend college.
He still attends Youth First programs when he can,
While Alex Gutierrez has been with Youth First for only four years, his story is similar.
“Youth First has helped me a lot,” said the Anoka High School 11th-grader. “They stayed on my tail and help me out a lot with my homework.” As a teenager, he finds it easy to slack off, but the Youth First staff, Program Director Heidi Geiss and Site Coordinator Kelly Thorsten, help him with his homework, college and visioning his future, Gutierrez said.
“Without them, life would be harder,” he said.
He would not have been able to see his ability to go to college, said Gutierrez, who will also be the first in his family to attend college.
With the support of the community, Youth First is able to provide community programs as well as in-school programs at Anoka High School and Oak View Middle School in Andover, said Geiss.
Taste of Community is a huge event and it needs to bring in the goal of $20,000 or more, she said.
The Nov. 8 event brought out 200 people and raised $6,000.
The money helps Youth First provide free services for about 300 kids a year in Anoka, Andover and Ramsey, Geiss said.
Youth First makes sure the kids with vision problems have eye glasses so they can see the board at school, have their immunizations, have physicals, have the proper paperwork to be able to play sports in school, have some basic needs like food and their families have secure housing, she said.
Youth First also works with the Ronald McDonald House to make sure the kids get proper dental care and restorative dental work as many of the kids are in their late teens and have never seen a dentist, Geiss said.
“Youth First also provides the kids a safe place to be, no matter the choice they made,” she said.
If they have made a bad choice, the kids can still come back, but they are held accountable, Geiss said.
They learn from their choices and learn how to succeed in the world, she said.
In addition to getting the kids to think about their futures beyond high school, Youth First offers the kids the option to explore post-high school opportunities.
“It is hard to finish high school when you don’t have a vision of the future beyond high school,” Geiss said.
Youth First has worked with local colleges to provide tours and helped the college-bound kids fill out financial aid packets.
It gives the kids something to look forward to and makes finishing school and improving their grades more of a priority, Geiss said.
Because college is not for everyone, Youth First is also working with employers to provide opportunities for the kids, like job shadowing, she said.
It gives the kids a chance to try the job and see what they want to do, Geiss said.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]