Good grades pay off for Youth Guidance kids

VERO BEACH — Approximately 120 children, matched up with a similar number of volunteers, enjoyed some hot summer fun at the Youth Guidance Good Grades Pool Party, held at the Gifford Aquatic Center.

“We do this once a year,” said Barbara Schlitt Ford, Youth Guidance Executive Director, of the event.  “Report cards are collected from the previous year, and kids with A and B grades or younger children with E and S marks are invited, and get to pick from a whole table of prizes.  Kids with improved grades, good conduct and good attendance are also invited and they get ribbons.  School starts next week, so the party is also a way to get them fired up for the coming year.”

Before going into the pool area, children were busily writing write thank-you letters with help from volunteers.

“They’re all required to write thank-you letters for the various activities they participated in throughout the year,” said Donna Maness, who was finishing up a full day of volunteer activities; earlier in the day, she had volunteered at the Homeless Family Center Take a Kid Fishing day.

Out by the pool, Jenny Davis and her charge Dakota Helgeson, a straight-A third-grader at Osceola, were enjoying frosty treats from Snowballs in Vero Beach.  Helgeson disclosed that she wants to be an actor or a singer when she grows up.  And it seems that she’s well on her way, having already participated in four plays at the Vero Beach Performing Arts Center.

“I was one of the main leads in Annie; I played Molly,” said Helgeson with a huge smile.  “My first play was the King & I, and I was also in the Wizard of Oz and 101 Dalmatians.”

Cheryl Conley, the fourth-grade teacher at Osceola Magnet School who was recently selected as the 2011 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year, was invited as a special guest.  She spoke to the kids about the five keys to success:  to make good choices in life, work hard, study hard, find a passion for something they’re really good at, and to shine.

Conley is taking a sabbatical from her job at Osceola to work as an ambassador for education. She only just returned from Tallahassee on Friday and had already attended two other events Saturday.  She will be working on various task force and curriculum committees and will travel throughout Florida, spreading the word about the importance of education.

“There are 67 counties in Florida; I want to make it to all of them and spotlight something special going on in each county,” said Conley.

All the children at the Pool Party were enrolled in the Youth Guidance program; the County partnered  to let them use the facility at no cost.  Some kids came with their existing mentors, while others were matched up with new volunteers.

“The kids get to interact with positive role models while they wait for a permanent mentor,” said Ford, adding that mentors generally work with the kids for about two hours once a week.

“Just by being in the program, grades improve.  They work harder, and the ones with mentors do even better.  Our big push is to find people for all these kids who are still waiting for mentors. One reason we do all these activities, is to introduce the kids to adults in the community; once they actually meet the kids, they often sign on as mentors.”

Ford also related that last week six Youth Guidance kids were awarded $1,500 college scholarships, and next week there will be a ceremony for straight-A students who will receive checks from the Vero Beach Exchange Club.

“It pays to work hard,” said Ford with a smile.  {igallery 242}

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