CANTON — From the top down, St. Lawrence County Youth Advocate Programs Inc, knows what it means to have family problems and the importance of working through those problems to keep families together.
That was a major theme in Wednesday afternoon’s 20th anniversary celebration and open house that showcased the programs’ newest location, at 3 Remington Ave., which opened 10 months ago.
Commotion and a celebratory atmosphere permeated the rooms and halls occupied by staff, partner agencies, local employers as well as individuals and families served by the organization, referred to almost exclusively by its acronym, YAP. Families share dstories of how they overcame some of life’s most difficult challenges in order to stay together. People cried with joy as the tales were told and families cried as they recounted the challenges overcome.
The purpose of the event was to showcase space provided for supervised visits with children, in foster care, by parents and family members .
Executive Director Dana M. LaCoss was one of those who became emotional throughout the celebration. She said the mission of the organization is something she deeply believes in, because she comes from a “rough background.”
“We were poor; I had an abusive mom’s boyfriend in the home, so to me, I see these families and what they’re going through and I relate,” she said. “I know I would have wanted to be with my family. Not in foster are, not in a residential setting, so for me it’s great to be able to help these families stay together in the community.”
She said the new space helps to assist other agencies, such as the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, with supervised visitation and foster parent training.
Social Services Commissioner Christopher R. Rediehs and Deputy Commissioner Heather L. Wenzel agreed that the Youth Advocate Programs Inc. works with families in ways that DSS can’t, especially with the new space.
“They are playing a huge role in reducing trauma that is taking place in families ad making it possible for people to live lives that are . . . productive, meaningful, flourishing lives,” Mr. Rediehs said. “Every family goes through struggles and has challenges, and to be able to participate in ways where families are struggling, it really makes a positive difference and it’s something they do year-in and day-out, 24 hours a day. We think the world of them.”
He said Ms. Wenzel “hit the ground running” upon her arrival, recognizing what a significant resource the organization is for families, and built a partnership with them that has “made an enormous difference in so many lives.”
“It takes a community. The issues that they are facing are not just probation’s issues or DSS’s issues, they are community issues and it really takes a community to address them,” Ms. Wenzel said. “They devote so much time to individual families. You can feel it today. They are here for families. Not every organization can you walk into and the mission is right there in front of you, but you know when you come here and you talk to their staff, they want families to be together and they are really dedicated to the work that they are doing.”
One of the families there to share its story, the Biddles, sang the praises of the organization, with father Raymond Biddle IV saying that his family didn’t know what it was like to be alone together.
The family of seven, which also includes three daughters, ages 10, 8 and 7, two sons, ages 10 and 5, and their mother, Cherie Davies, all lived in one room in a four-room, one bathroom home in Hammond with members of an extended family.
Child Protective Services became involved, the family was removed from the home and Mr. Biddle said he and the children’s mother became involved with YAP and their advocate, Penny J. Frary.
They now live in Watertown.
“They have never been to a park before, they have never been to a city pool before, they had never experienced Halloween or the Fourth of July, all things that they had never done before. Never,” Ms. Frary said, her voice choking up. “The kids had never been trick-or-treating, a family Christmas, a Thanksgiving dinner ...”
The list went on.
“And we experienced them with them,” she said. “We showed them what the dynamics of a family is. They have done wonderful. They have flourished and the kids are all doing wonderful in school. To me they are a star Family for YAP, showing the full dynamics of exactly what a service provider does to make a family come full circle.”
The Biddle family concluded it service arrangement with YAP in December, but the relationship never ended and they stay in touch with Mr. Frary.
“This is still new to us. It feels good. We enjoy it,” Mr. Biddle said. “It’s something new for us and if it weren’t for the YAP people, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We fought for these kids to get them back where they are and did what we were supposed to do as parents to get them back. We’re happy. We’re living life and trying to enjoy it with these kids.“
Standing before a small audience, Mr. Biddle’s oldest son, Raymond, read from a letter recounting all the things that YAP has done for his family.
“YAP helped us with everything. They are the nicest people in the world and we are so thankful for them to be in our life. We love them with all of our hearts,” he said, slowly reading from a sheet of paper. “They taught us a lot about life.”
To learn more about YAP, visit www.yapinc.org.