Chaos, conflict and confusion were constants in James Stuart’s childhood days. His mother married and divorced several times and the family was always on the move – “running from police, I’m guessing,” Stuart said.
Thankfully, a favorite teacher and a couple of other caring adults helped Stuart escape the chaos, avoid the conflict, and make sense of the confusion, guiding him toward turning his life around.
Today, James Stuart serves the community as Anoka County Sheriff and he shared his story as featured speaker during the March 21 Mayors Prayer Breakfast at Constance Free Church in Andover.
Some 300 people attended the 20th annual prayer breakfast, designed to raise money to support Youth First Community of Promise, which provides services to students who are struggling at school, at home, with relationships and in life.
“It is a life-saving program that provides kids with five specific promises to improve their chances for success,” said Michelle Anderson, acting chairperson of Youth First.
Those promises (providing caring adults, safe places, a healthy start and future, an effective education, and opportunities to give back) are met as Youth First takes the pledge to actively engage not only the community’s kids, but the community itself.
Youth First Community of Promise is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization which partners with schools, faith communities, local businesses, and youth groups to provide struggling youth with support and guidance from caring adults.
Youth First is an organization that is both groundbreaking and rooted in proven youth developmental practices, said county public information manager Martha Weaver in a press release.
Established in 1991, Youth First was created by visionaries who were able to reach across governmental boundaries and form a collaboration to reduce risky behaviors in youth in the communities of Andover, Anoka, and Ramsey.
Kids who experience Youth First are more likely to succeed academically, socially, and civically, regardless of ethnic or economic boundaries, Weaver said.
According to its website, over the past 20 years, Youth First has been actively serving the youth and families of the community. In 2005, Youth First became a “Community of Promise” under framework established by the national program model of America’s Promise.
Activities and services provided by Youth First include after school programs, homework help, teen movie nights, and basketball. Not only that, Youth First offers a summer program with free recreational and educational activities and field trips for kids in grades 6-12.
During the March 21 breakfast, Partner of Promise awards were presented to Anoka Covenant Church, Installing Coolers, Etc. (ICE), and Thomas and Vickie Spindler.
Those awards recognize immeasurable time and effort given to Youth First, but as Vickie Spindler said in her acceptance speech, “People give thousands of hours providing services, running support centers, giving contributions. It takes a village to raise a child – you are that village.”
The next matter of business during the fund-raiser breakfast had Tony Elfelt of AAA Auction leading the Fund-a-Promise Campaign, enticing the crowd to open their wallets and bid a financial promise to support Youth First.
“Didn’t we all have those five promises growing up? Didn’t that makes us feel loved?” Elfelt said, asking the crowd to appreciate positive influences they may have had growing up.
“Youth First doesn’t replace love, but if (program director) Heidi Geiss and (site coordinator) Kelly Thorsten and the other volunteers are ‘mom,’ then we are the generous grandparents. C’mon, grandparents, open those wallets and show how generous you can be,” Elfelt said, then started the auction.
Prayer breakfast attendees bid quickly in increments of $50, $100, $500 and $1,000.
At auction’s end – just a few minutes later – thousands of dollars were raised for Youth First.
Prayer breakfast fund-raising funds totalled even more since tickets to the fund-raising event went for $25 apiece, tables of seven for $170.
All told, the annual prayer breakfast brought in some $15,000, or about 10 percent of Youth First’s annual $150,000 budget needs, according to Anderson. Other funding for the program is donated by Youth First partners: the cities of Andover, Anoka and Ramsey, Anoka County and the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
As Sheriff Stuart told the prayer breakfast crowd, that support is invaluable.
“Every youth deserves a chance and an opportunity. Together we are the answer. We are writing a new story. We are offering new hope. We are making a difference.”
To learn more about Youth First, visit youth1st.net, call 763-421-8530 or connect with them on Facebook.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]