Extol | Celebrating Southern Indiana and Beyond Extol Digital November 2023 | Page 25

Youth Link Southern Indiana is Breaking Barriers for a Brighter Tomorrow

Youth Link Southern Indiana began over 20 years ago with one goal in mind - to support the overwhelmed teachers in the schools so that they , in turn , could support the students . Today , the organization exists to work with parents and teachers to help tear down the barriers that prevent kids from succeeding .
Formerly under the national organization known as Communities in Schools , the program initially started with two schools in Clark County that aimed to provide academic support , mental health support , and help meet the basic needs of students .
“ Being part of the national organization was great , but we felt that every school was essentially like each different county , each with individual needs that needed to be met ,” said Executive Director , Jerry Leonard . “ That ’ s when we decided that if we can do more , have more freedom and really tailor our programs to the needs of the individual schools , then we should . We decided to break away from the national program and changed our name to Youth Link Southern Indiana . The new name fits perfectly with what we actually do , linking youth to pathways of success .”
Today , Youth Link Southern Indiana serves over 2,300 students in over 19 schools in Clark and Floyd counties . “ Our mission statement is about removing the barriers so that students can reach their full potential ,” said Leonard .
This past 2022-2023 school year , with the help of funds from the Samtec Cares grant , the organization was able to add a Resource Coordinator at New Albany High School in their Bulldog Resource Center . Resource Coordinators are sent to schools to work with specific teachers and provide one-on-one and small group tutoring , and help serve as an extra hand in the classroom .
Resource Coordinators also organize the 321 Read Program , a volunteer led program that assists struggling readers with one-on-one weekly sessions of reading to and with the student . “ Our 321 Read Program volunteers will meet with a student for 30 minutes each week and utilize various techniques to help them build their reading
skills , figuring out what works best for the student . Each time the volunteer goes back , they take a new book and the student gets to take that book home . So , every time they are going , they are building up their home library and the volunteer is building a relationship with the student as you ’ re reading with them ,” explained Leonard .
Volunteers remain with the student throughout their school years , providing consistency and stability to the student .. “ It ’ s more than just reading a book ,” said Leonard . “ You ’ re building a relationship , you ’ re building a mentorship , and you ’ re becoming a role model … you ’ ll see their self image and their excitement grow .”
Youth Link Southern Indiana is currently looking for volunteers for their Resource Coordinator and 321 Read Programs . Interested individuals can visit their website at www . youthlinksi . org or call the main office at 812- 280-0028 with any questions .
Why volunteer ? “ Why not ?” said Leonard . “ I mean , look at the impact . You look at that child ’ s face and you watch that child grow , you see them change , and you know that you ’ ve made a difference . They are going to know and remember that too … it ’ s just extra special because you ’ ve made a difference in someone ’ s life .”
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