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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: Community left in the dark

  • I’ve often thought 90 percent of the good done in the world is done by non-profits. And non-profits rely heavily on volunteers.

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  • I’ve often thought 90 percent of the good done in the world is done by non-profits. And non-profits rely heavily on volunteers.
    Most of us have been on both sides of the equation, either flipping and serving the fundraiser pancakes or recruiting the flippers and figuring out how much pancake mix to buy. So just about everyone knows the importance of the care and feeding of volunteers, especially long-term volunteers.
    That’s why this YouthFriends fiasco has been so disheartening. The program is shutting down – it will live on in another form locally – and the handling of it has been neither adept nor respectful.
    My good friend Laura Vernon recruited me – nudged me, corralled me – into the YouthFriends program in the Independence School District 17 years ago, first at Glendale Elementary and now, for several years, at Luff. I read to kids. Among other things, third graders laugh and cry through “Charlotte’s Web,” and fifth graders get through the close calls and many tears of “Where the Red Fern Grows.”
    Let me be clear: I enjoy doing that, and I think it has great value, but as far I’m concerned the heroes in this program are those “lunch buddies” and others who sit down with kids, one on one, and just talk. And listen. They give a kiddo one more caring and understanding adult in his life. That has infinite value.
    My friend Laura got this program going in Independence – corralled lots of folks like me – and left it in good stead when she retired. The district continues to run it well, with hundreds of volunteers, probably the most robust YouthFriends program in the metro area.
    But there’s trouble with the organization downtown, not that anyone would know. School districts were simply told two weeks ago, “Oh, hey, we’re done here. Please send all the materials back, stop using our name, and have a good life.”
    Days later, volunteers got an email tagged “Change for the YouthFriends Program.” Change? What a fatuous euphemism. It’s just “change?” Yeah, and Noah just put up with a little light rain.
    The email itself is in a similar vein, trying very hard not to say what the organization needs to say. “As the program evolves during this current environment, YouthFriends will no longer provide service for each school district.” In my line of work, I read a lot of preciously worded and misleading news releases, but this one is special. How shutting down a program can be portrayed as “evolving” is beyond me. Apparently they just ran too deeply into the red – trust me, I know how much metro non-profits have struggled – but no is willing to come out and just say that.
    To its great credit – and to no one’s surprise – the Independence district within days assured volunteers that something very similar would take YouthFriends’ place by this fall. The district knows what an asset those volunteers are.
    Page 2 of 2 - What really annoys me is that this is so much like the mess with the closing of the Independence YMCA this spring: Oh, by the way, we’re done here, and that’s final, and thanks for all of your blood, sweat, tears and cash over the years, but that’s over now. Have a good life.
    Volunteers don’t do this for themselves. It’s the kids and others who count. But the pancake flippers deserve a little more consideration than they’ve gotten here.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox.
     
     

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