Source: Sherman Publications

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BGYA: Helping kids, families

by Susan Bromley

November 09, 2011

When Andrea Almanza and her husband were going through a divorce this year, their youngest child, Jacob, was changed by the upheaval.

"It was one of those situations that couldn't be helped, but we were trying to handle it the best we could and our son's behavior was really suffering at school," said Almanza, who also has two daughters and two stepdaughters. "The way Jacob was acting was not typical of his personality. It was a rough time. He was acting out and had bad behavior toward other children."

Frustrated, she didn't know where to turn for help until Harvey Swanson Principal Helen Clemetsen pointed her in the direction of Brandon Groveland Youth Assistance. The mission of BGYA is to strengthen youth and families through community involvement. Oakland County Caseworker Gail Innis provides free counseling services to families in the Brandon School District from her office in the H.T. Burt Lifelong Learning Center. She began counseling Almanza and Jacob, now 6, in May and as of last month, Innis had serviced 59 cases this year, including 29 new referrals since January.

"We hope our prevention programs will provide counseling and resources for families that could aid in reducing child neglect and abuse as well as juvenile delinquency and other reasons that might bring families into the court," said Innis. "Through our primary programs and secondary counseling services, we hope we can help families solve their problems before they become so overwhelming they become stagnant and are not able to take action that can turn their family situation in a positive direction."

Students and their families are referred to BGYA for many reasons, including prevention/counseling, school and/or home incorrigibility, school attendance, juvenile crimes, and curfew violation. Innis commonly sees children affected by changes in the home environment, like Jacob, or students recently relocated or suffering from grief and loss issues.

Innis also gives information and refers families to other organizations when needed, for help she can't provide. To date this year, she has had 81 such consultations, roughly double of what she had last year.

"It's way above average," Innis said. "The numbers are up because of all the stresses in families' lives right now. It's secondary stress from the state of the economy and its effect on the family. As the economy affects finances, it causes friction in relationships and children witness discussions and are doing without as their parents are losing a home or losing a job."

BGYA provides information to families faced with emergency relief needs or counseling related issues. They often don't know where to begin to find services or what is available to them.

Besides counseling services, BGYA offers other programs to support families, including parent education workshops, a mentoring program, summer camp and student enrichment scholarships, and youth recognition to boost children's self-esteem and motivate them to go in positive directions.

The help Almanza has received for her son has put Jacob back on the right path.

"This year, he is doing so much better," she said. "Gail helped me figure out what his frustrations were, and gave us different tools and suggestions for how we could do things as a family and spend more quality time together. We are continuing the counseling sessions and will go as long as needed. I think it's extremely important and gives parents another alternative."

Innis, whose salary is paid for by Oakland County, splits her time between Brandon and Holly. BGYA programs and scholarships are supported by fundraisers and donations from the community.

A Jingle Bell 5K Fun Run and 1-Mile Family Walk/Run to support BGYA is planned for 1 p.m., Dec. 3, starting at the Brandon Township offices, 395 Mill St. Registration cost is $20 and includes jingle bells for shoes and a long-sleeved tech shirt and opportunity to walk in the Christmas in the Village Parade, which begins at 3 p.m. For more information, call Jane Derry-Burkett at 248-778-7127 or e-mail at