After being a previous “smash hit,” the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally is set to return. The event, which raises funds to help keep youth out of the criminal justice system, is scheduled to feature various forms of entertainment, including musician Steve Acho.

After being a previous “smash hit,” the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally is set to return. The event, which raises funds to help keep youth out of the criminal justice system, is scheduled to feature various forms of entertainment, including musician Steve Acho.

Photo provided by Curt Lawson

Food truck rally to benefit youth assistance program

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 24, 2022


WEST BLOOMFIELD — After taking a two-year break due to COVID-19, the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally is set to make a comeback.

The event, which organizers said takes approximately eight months to put together, features music, food, games and vendors, and it is scheduled to take place in the parking lot of Orchard Mall 4-8 p.m. Aug. 26.

The food truck rally is organized as an effort to support West Bloomfield Youth Assistance, which is a nonprofit that offers professional caseworker services and prevention programs for youth and their families who live within the West Bloomfield School District.

Youth who have had issues with things such as retail fraud, assault, alcohol and drug use, as well as home and/or school problems, can be referred to WBYA from schools and police, as well as parents who have concerns about a child.

As opposed to getting a criminal record, the WBYA can sometimes offer an alternative for youth.

West Bloomfield Police Department Deputy Chief Curt Lawson serves as the treasurer for the WBYA. He shared an example of the kind of scenario that might lead to someone entering the WBYA program.

“Let’s say a child goes into a store and shoplifts. There’s three options: no prosecution; there’s the criminal justice side, where the police come and they’re gonna enter the criminal justice system; or the officer decides to put that child into a youth assistance diversion program,” Lawson said. “That’s what we recommend on first offenses for smoking, drinking, marijuana use — kids that might be stealing or kids that are not showing up to school. … This is where youth assistance on these lower-level crimes can really be a benefit for the child, so they don’t get a criminal justice record; they don’t have to enter the criminal justice system. … It’s a diversion program outside of criminal justice.”

The WBYA program is for those 18 and younger.

Stacy Panini has been a case worker for more than 20 years. She is assigned through the Oakland County Circuit Court Family Division and has been part of WBYA since 2009.

She is typically assigned to specific youth cases for nine months or less.

“The program’s not designed to be a long-term therapeutic intervention. We will do short-term counseling and professional caseworker services, and then if families need longer-term interventions, we’ll make sure we get them to those services,” Panini said.

Panini’s case worker services are conducted at West Bloomfield High School and via Zoom.

Lawson said that the WBYA’s success rate is “quite high,” and he referred to Panini as an “outstanding case worker.”

“She has helped turn around a lot of kids’ lives, to get them on the right path,” Lawson said. “I think sometimes you just need a little bit of a correction, especially when you’re a teenager — you get a little bit off track. She’s done a really great job with all of her assets at her disposal to push kids back on the right track and make them a success. We don’t see a lot of kids re-entering the criminal justice system or youth assistance.”

Youth assistance programs are offered in various parts of Oakland County, and from Panini’s perspective, it is a “game-changer” for those who take advantage of it.

“I think if families embrace it, kids take the program seriously and utilize what’s offered to them, it can have tremendous success,” she said. “Countywide, it has a significantly high success rate where we see kids who have had youth assistance involvement, and then we look at statistics on if they’ve ever entered the juvenile court system. The success of the program is in the high 90 percents — that they would never see official court involvement.”

Lawson said that Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald and West Bloomfield School District Superintendent Dania Bazzi are “huge advocates” of youth assistance.

The cost to attend the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally is $5 per family, with the funds raised going toward the WBYA program.

“Having a financially healthy youth assistance allows us to help more kids in the greater West Bloomfield community, and that’s what West Bloomfield Youth Assistance is about,” Lawson said. “(An) event like the food truck rally allows us to have the money to do these things, and that’s why it’s such an important event. It’s not only a fun event to come to — you have great food (and) entertainment — but your money is going to a great cause, which is West Bloomfield Youth Assistance.”

Lawson expects to have approximately 17 food trucks at the event, with a variety of food offerings.

The entertainment is expected to include musician Steve Acho, bounce houses and kids games.

After it was a “smash hit” in its inaugural year of 2018, the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally was brought back the following year. This is set to be the first rally since 2019.

Lawson said that the last event drew a crowd of close to 5,000 people.

“I can’t tell you the number of people that have come up to me, especially the first year, and (were) so thankful that youth assistance was able to pull off something like this event,” he said. “It brought the community together. … They enjoyed coming together; they enjoyed the atmosphere; they enjoyed the fact that it was for a good cause. So I think it’s extremely important.”

Lawson also added that the West Bloomfield Police Department is set to be on-hand to provide security.

“So it’ll be a safe community event,” he said.

Panini is also a proponent of the benefits that can result from the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally.

“To me, the food truck rally is critical,” she said. “It helps us establish additional funding to support children and families in our community through programming. … The food truck rally or other fundraising opportunities give us the ability to give back to the community in various ways.”

Lawson acknowledged the sponsors of the West Bloomfield Youth Assistance Food Truck Rally — West Bloomfield Township, the West Bloomfield School District, the cities of Orchard Lake and Keego Harbor, Orchard Mall, US Ice, Maple View party store, and Winning Imprints and Custom Trophies.

For more information about West Bloomfield Youth Assistance, visit