Imagine this: You are a 15-year-old boy in North Idaho. You’re part of a single-parent home with three younger siblings, and your mom works two jobs to keep your family in the basics—rent, food, clothing, gas. There’s no extra money for new winter coats, school field trips, dental visits, sometimes not even enough left over for shampoo. Your friends are in similar straits and they are encouraging you to “have some fun”—partying, getting in trouble, running around. You know there must be a better way, but where can you turn, which way can you go?
For teens in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that answer is “Crosswalk North Idaho” sponsored by Volunteers of America (VOA). This center, open every day after school from 2:30-6:30 p.m., as well as during school breaks and all summer, offers a chance for at-risk youth to break the cycles of poverty, abuse, lack of stable parenting and limited job options.
Brandi Smitherman, Crosswalk North Idaho’s Program Director, and her mostly volunteer staff, have worked very hard to provide these youths with the basics. They have nutritious snacks after school, and a hot dinner every night provided by one of their many sponsors, a clothing bank, personal hygiene items and warm winter coats and boots. But beyond the basics is where she and her staff really shine. They are committed to offering the 125 teens who utilize their services a shot at a better life. They offer classes of all kinds—music, art, life skills, assistance accessing driver’s education, and job skills through their new “Work Ready” program. They also provide funds to pay for CPR training, dental work, college placement exams, “Women in Sciences” camp, State ID’s, and many other necessary items their families cannot afford.
They have some fun, too! So many of these kids have no money or time to enjoy “regular teenage adventures” so the staff has organized trips to an amusement park, week-long backpacking trips, and regular attendance at a local gym. They also teach the value of giving back—not just receiving, but learning to give, and the teens work for the local food bank, come to Unity Spiritual Center of North Idaho regularly to help tend the gardens and grounds, and do other volunteer work through the community. Brandi and her staff really try to give the teens meaningful, healthy and helpful life experiences, to assist them in becoming more well-rounded individuals. They also offer case management and emergency shelter “Host Homes” for those in crisis.
Unity Spiritual Center of North Idaho in Coeur d’Alene has partnered with Crosswalk North Idaho for three years now. We supported their Christmas Coat Program with the proceeds of a quilt raffle, have provided 2-6 hot meals a month, gathered 20 bags of personal care/hygiene items in a church drive, and many members have donated various items, including mountain bikes, a TV and furniture for their center. We also have supported them with adult mentors and volunteers. We are proud to support such a hard-working center that focuses on a very vulnerable segment of our community. In addition, Rev Deidre Ashmore presented a series of classes with the youth on acceptance of different views and cultures.
If you are interested in helping Crosswalk North Idaho or connecting to a VOA-sponsored group in your own area, please go to www.voa.org. You can also connect with Unity of North Idaho at 208.664.1125.