A lulu of a Luau assists Youth Guidance programs

It was a homecoming of sorts for the hundreds of party-goers who donned their best floral attire for the 41st annual Youth Guidance Luau at the Grand Harbor Golf Club, where arriving guests were welcomed with colorful leis and a roomful of smiles.

The ever-popular Gypsy Lane band had people out on the dance floor even before the lavish tropical buffet was opened for dinner.

“I’ve been coming here for decades,” said Wesley Davis, event auctioneer. “This has always been the best party in town and it’s for such a good cause. I went to school with some of the organizers so it’s like a reunion. Only this time it’s not about us, it’s about all the children we help.”

Bidding was fast and exciting for coveted live-auction items and, all the while, a silent auction bursting with nearly a hundred donations had guests lingering nearby to make sure theirs was the bid that would bring home the treasure.

Felix Cruz, YG executive director, said he was thrilled with the turnout.

“Everyone knows this is the party of the year,” he said. “I’ve had supporters tell me that they usually go out of town right after Memorial Day but decided to stay just to attend the Luau. This is our signature event and the proceeds directly change the lives of hundreds of children.”

Youth Guidance supports the mentoring of children from low-income, single-parent homes in Indian River County. Without the guidance of volunteer mentors and the camaraderie of others in its programs, many of these children would be trapped in a cycle of poverty, with little hope for the future. The community support and the dedication of the mentors give children a chance to change the direction of their lives.

Attorney Brian Connelly said he is living proof that Youth Guidance programs can change a life.

“I was just 9 years old when Youth Guidance introduced me to my mentors, Sam and Jocelyn Block,” explained Connelly. “Their involvement in my life made all the difference in the world. I learned to believe in myself.”

Connelly said he and wife Laurie, the event coordinator and a Youth Guidance board member, currently mentor two brothers, ages 13 and 15.

“We’ve been with them for five years now and we see them at least once a week. We do everyday things, like helping with homework, but we also take them bowling, fishing and to the movies,” he continued. “Honestly, mentoring these two young men has enriched my life every bit as much as it has theirs.”

Youth Guidance has begun a capital campaign to preserve and renovate the original Indian River County Library building, which they recently purchased as their headquarters. It will be named the Rita Dion Mentoring Academy, in honor of the founder and first executive director.

Plans include construction of a multi-purpose room for large group activities, a self-contained kitchen, and the creation of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) learning lab, with state of the art computers and graphics equipment.

Article by: Kerry Firth, Correspondent

Photos by: Denise Ritchie
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