Kathleen Hoover is a high school guidance counselor, Walled Lake Central High School’s girls cross country coach, and the mother of two young children. Yet, she still finds time to continue volunteering with Oakland County Youth Assistance, which she has done for the past nine years. With a bachelor’s degree in special education from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in counseling, Hoover offers a helpful perspective to the Lakes Area Youth Assistance (LAYA) Board that serves the Walled Lake Consolidated School District. She is also the chairperson for LAYA’s Mentors Plus Program, which is designed to help youths foster positive relationships with adult mentors with the goal of helping children to become successful in society. The program is currently looking for adult volunteers who are willing to take a couple hours a week to guide and spend time with a youth.
Tell us a bit about the Lakes Area Youth Assistance. What types of programs does it offer? Who does it help?
KH: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to know just Youth Assistance in general is a community-based program, and their mission is to strengthen youth and families, to prevent and reduce delinquency, neglect, and abuse through community involvement. And Lakes Area Youth Assistance is one of 26 local offices or local Youth Assistance organizations. Lakes Area covers 16 different municipalities.
Please tell us about the Lakes Area Youth Assistance mentoring program. What benefits do you think the program provides for the community?
KH: What our campaign is for now is to find some mentors, and the Mentors Plus Program is again, through community involvement, trying to increase volunteer involvement, looking for mentors to help build relationships with our students. It helps to reduce at-risk behaviors such as truancy, substance abuse, (and) help students become more confident and build better relationships. So through this mentor-mentee program we’re hoping to match youths that are ages 5-16, and the commitment is basically meeting twice a week — or more if they would like to — and doing some community involvement. Doing basically anything they would like to do to have fun in order to build that relationship.
What do I think this program provides for the community? Gosh, it’s reciprocal. We have several different organizations that are already mentors, and the feedback we get from them is tremendous. There’s different outings that we go on, and the feedback that we get is that the relationships that they’ve built, and the way that not only the students or the youths have built stronger bonds, have helped just reducing violence, reducing truancy in schools. You know, just helping these kids be successful in society.
Please describe the type of people you are looking for to take part in this program. What are their responsibilities? How do those interested become involved?
KH: We are looking for any adult, so (18-years-old) and above, and someone who is interested in, like I said, a couple hours a week to be a good role model. And someone to be able to envision a positive relationship. There’s not really anything more than that that we are looking for.
There is an application process. There is an orientation that the individual would have to volunteer for. It’s a 3-hour orientation, and it basically describes the mentor-mentee program. And we’re looking for basically a best fit. So if someone is interested, it could be any adult from 18-99. If they have a couple hours a week and they’d like to spend it with a youth — someone who is also looking for a mentor — then they are a candidate.
When we do the application process, we spend a lot of time trying to find a best fit, so finding some things that they have in common. It could be something simple as reading together, playing basketball together, or going to the movies, doing different crafts — basically, anything that they decide to do together.
There’s an application process that they have to begin with the county. They can call the phone number, 248-858-0041, or they can go on the website (www.oakgov.com/circuit/volunteer/youth-assistance.html) and obtain an application. Then they can schedule the 3-hour orientation. And then after that, someone from the local committee or at least two people from the local committee will do an at-home interview. They do a driving and criminal history records checks and other reference checks. We come out to the house and meet them, talk a little bit about what kind of child they’d be interested in. Then after that, the potential mentor and mentee meet. And if it feels like a good fit, then we schedule from there.
The program has been going on since 1973 actually. There has been thousands of matches since 1973 when it has been a county a program.
What is your role with the Lakes Area Youth Assistance? When and how did you become involved with the program? What do you feel has been the most rewarding aspect of working with LAYA?
KH: I sit on the board, and I am the chair person for the Mentors Plus Committee. I became involved with Youth Assistance in general about nine years ago when I worked in Royal Oak, and for the last six years, I’ve been a counselor in Walled Lake. And I believe it’s about four years now that I’ve been involved with Youth Assistance with Lakes Area Youth Assistance, which is the one with Walled Lake.
Sitting on the board, I get to see and heard all kinds of wonderful news. Each month when we meet, we get all kinds of feedback from all the different programs that we’ve done, feedback from fund-raisers and different events. And it’s very rewarding. I wish I had time to be involved with all the different committees. We have different committees that work with family and youth education, some that work with skill building — so we help find tutors and help provide money for things that kids need that you wouldn’t normally think we provide money for. Youth Recognition Night (is) a big night where the youth in the community are recognized by someone in the school system and it’s supposed to be something that they haven’t been recognized for in the past, and we get to talk about all the good things they have done and how they have helped the community. Some (LAYA programs) are camps, holiday Adopt a Family, Shopping With a Cop or Shopping With a Firefighter or other hero. So being on the board, I get to sit and not only hear about those things, but be involved with all of the different organizations and different sub-groups that we have. So it’s great to see all the positive things that we do.
In your opinion, what do you feel are the toughest problems facing youths in the LAYA program? How is LAYA working to address those issues in west Oakland?
KH: I think that the most difficult problems I would say are truancy, substance abuse, and violence in general. The Mentors Plus Program is directly working with those things. There was a couple different studies that show that when a mentor is working with a mentee for a minimum of 12-18 months — in this particular study — were 46 percent less likely to engage in some of those behaviors. In particular, skipping school and drinking, and it also showed that they improved their relationships with their peers and then within their own family unit. So I think this program, I don’t want to say more than any of the other ones, but it directly affects that.
In addition to volunteering with LAYA, you are also a guidance counselor at Walled Lake Central and the girl’s cross country coach. How do you manage to balance your time? How, if at all, do you feel your counseling position has helped you in your work with Lakes Area Youth Assistance?
KH: I also have two little ones at home — a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. It’s difficult, but I think it’s important when you love what you do. My motto is to work hard and play hard. I love to do all kinds of outdoor activities. So during the week, I work as hard as I can, and then the weekend, I spend time with family.
I think (my job) directly affects it. I see the kids coming every day. I’ve worked at all three levels — elementary, middle, and high school. And I get to see the changes that the students make. And with Youth Assistance, working with youths starting at the elementary age, I get to see their growth. And I also notice when issues are arising, and I can make referrals. I’m the only school person on the board for Lakes Area Youth Assistance. It just happened to work out that way. But I can basically be a liaison to all of the schools. You know, sending e-mails, providing correspondence, letting the other schools know about what programs we have. Being a school staff person and being in the counseling office, I see these issues. And if I see trends develop, I can talk to our case worker about that, and, you know, get the other schools involved as well. o