A Des Moines organization is one of the “faith-based” groups that’s sharing a set of federal grants to help children in troubled families. Stewart VanderVelden, is the executive director for the Serve Our Youth Network . VanderVelden says their project called “Serve Our Children” began with a conversation about how to serve the kids who need help the most. What would it look like they asked, if the faith community came in alongside public agencies and offered services for young people? The challenge was to match volunteers with the needs of kids in juvenile detention facilities and shelters. He says it began with visits to kids in institutions, then activities for those kids in the institutions, and led to one-to-one matches between volunteers from the faith communities and the young people. Recently they’ve expanded to offer the services of a chaplain to kids at the Woodward Academy. VanderVelden says there haven’t been many people of faith offering the services of a chaplain at facilities that handle young people. He says operators of youth institutions like shelters and detention centers welcome the volunteers in the “Serve Our Youth” program. He says staff and administrators bend over backward to accommodate the program, since there wouldn’t be many volunteers without it — he says SOY has doubled or tripled community volunteerism. VanderVelden says volunteers don’t have to come from the membership of a church, though word goes out through congregations about how volunteers can mentor kids. When SOY learned it was getting a federal grant of more than 400-thousand dollars, it planned to grow to help another group of youth. He says it’s an often-forgotten population — kids who have one or both of their parents serving time in a state or federal prison. This grant will expand services to kids from four to fifteen years old who have an incarcerated parent. VanderVelden says the group worked closely with other groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters as it was starting up, and he says in the seven central Iowa counties SOY has grown to serve, there are two-thousand children of prisoners whose needs are not being accommodated.
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