Dan Lamack, youth program coordinator for CASA, has been involved in Winthrop and its youth for the past six months focusing on programs that can have a therapeutic aspect and community advocacy.
CASA offers such a program with a place for youth to not only hang out, but a safe place to discuss the trials and tribulations of being an adolescent in today’s world. As an incentive, youth that participate are offered community service hours and the opportunity to get involved in larger community events, projects and potential employment positions.
“CASA is about providing resources to help with substance abuse and mental health issues, issues that kids won’t talk to their parents or teachers about, we want to make it easier for them to talk,” Lamack said, adding that CASA fills a gap between activities for little kids and older teens on the threshold for adulthood. “In between, there’s not a lot they can do. At least CASA gives them a place to go one or two nights a week where they can just hang out, or learn something.”
In Winthrop he has noticed that anxiety is a growing issue and outlets to reduce stress are also needed. He noted that young people between the ages of 16-20 tend toward needing to belong to a group and that’s a driving force for a lot of anxiety, depression and isolation, Lamack said. “We’re here to point out unhealthy coping skills and help them back to doing healthful things,” he said.
As an organization, they have established three drop-in days in hopes of offering a safe unique place for youth living in Winthrop, a place of their own where they are free to be themselves.
Executive Director LeighAnn Eruzione said, “We strive to provide a judgement-free place using respect as a key underlying driving force. Respect yourself, respect the space, and respect what is shared in this special place. The drama is left at the door and if a problem arises, we aren’t brushing it under the rug. We will work together and talk through it. “
The programs are offered on the following days:
• The Tuesday group – which is just for middle school kids is paired with youth staff or volunteers to come in and work with the students to practice leadership skills and lead the discussions. Anywhere from 12-15 kids usually show up, and “A big problem in middle school is unfortunately, bullying,” he said.
• Wednesday’s – Q club meets for the LGBTQ community and their allies with 10 or so young people
• Thursday nights are for high school students with12-15 showing up too.
All programming is considered drop in, therefore if you live in Winthrop, you can drop in! There is no pre-registration, or fees. “I can’t believe how far our youth programming has come since Danny joined us,”- Eruzione said. “Amy Epstein, the previous Executive Director started this initiative and Danny has taken the ball and has run far in such a short time. I know myself and the Board are beyond grateful for the time and attention he put into growing this program- and it shows. Our numbers are growing and that is exactly what we want!”
“These are groups where you can meet and talk, work on community projects or play games,” Lamack said. “They can also earn some community service
hours-which is a great incentive for them to give us a shot.”
Any youth looking to get more involved can formalize their role at CASA and become part of the Youth Advisory Board, which is an extension of the drop in program. Youth that identity as a YAB member receive special training to become a leader on primary prevention and issues related to mental health, substance abuse. This usually leads to a job opportunity with CASA which is a big resume builder for any young student looking to prepare for college or the workforce.
Once a month on a Friday, a group called the Youth Providers Network meets. CASA, police and fire, For Kids Only Afterschool, Twenty-First, Century, MassStart and the Winthrop Public Library get
together to work with young people and pool resources.
These events are usually held at the old middle school gym. CASA’s Youth Advisory Board assists in the planning of these activities. So far there’s been a Valentine’s Day dance with 250 kids attending. A video game truck has been brought in. Laser tag has been held in the gym. Basketball, dodgeball and more. In June CASA kids can expect an end of the year luau.