Hazel Park Youth Assistance announces events for March

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 2, 2018

HAZEL PARK — Families looking for something to do together while supporting a good cause can look forward to three events this month involving Hazel Park Youth Assistance.

These events include a free family swim night from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Hazel Park High School, 23400 Hughes Ave.; the “I Survived Old Man Winter Chili Cook-off” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Hazel Park Junior High, 22770 Highland Park Ave.; and lunch with the Easter Bunny from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at the Hazel Park Recreation Center, 620 W. Woodward Heights Blvd.

There is a $5 requested donation for the lunch with the Easter Bunny. Participants register in advance at the recreation center. Based on the level of donations, there will be prizes at the event including tickets to Detroit Tigers and Pistons games and the Michigan Renaissance Festival.

As for the chili cook-off, contestants will include HPYA, the Hazel Park Lions Club, Hazel Park Neighborhood Enrichment, the Hazel Park Board of Education, staff from Hoover Elementary School, and the previous winner, the Hazel Park Fire Department.

“There hasn’t been a chili cook-off in seven years,” said Beverly Hinton, chairperson for HPYA. “Previously, it was a great success. We’re looking forward to bringing it back, working with Hazel Park Neighborhood Enrichment. It’s not a moneymaker, though. It’s more to bring families and the community together.”

Supporting families is one way HPYA aims to fulfill its main purpose: keeping youths out of the legal system. For those who make mistakes, HPYA diverts them out of court and finds other ways to correct their behavior, like counseling. The idea is to be constructive rather than traumatizing.

And by helping families resolve tensions in the household, many problems can be avoided in the first place, Hinton said.

“There is not another court-related program in the country that can boast of helping so many children succeed,” Hinton said. “I’m proud to know the roots started right here in Hazel Park and spread to all schools in Oakland County.”

HPYA was formed in the 1950s, spearheaded by the late Hazel Park Public Schools Superintendent Wilfred Webb. It was the first of the youth assistance groups that are now in every school district in Oakland County. The referrals to HPYA are mainly teenagers, but can be as young as kindergarteners. Referrals are for a variety of reasons, including truancy, shoplifting and more.

The group receives its funding from the city, schools, county, and a sizable donation from the Hazel Park firefighters. HPYA continues to involve itself in after-school programs, mini-skill-building scholarships, and providing clothing and school supplies for families in need. The group also offers counseling and other referrals, as well as parenting workshops and family activities.

“We support the whole family in helping keep the children out of the legal system. It’s about parent education and helping to alleviate some of the financial needs at times,” said Sue Anderson, an HPYA board member. “We do school shopping trips and even skill-building scholarships for things like recreational classes, like YMCA memberships, or gymnastics, baseball — things like that.”

Nearly 90 youths have been referred to HPYA during the last two years, made by police, schools, parents and others concerned about each child’s welfare. People can help HPYA by volunteering on a committee or the board, by sharing a skill or hobby, or by contributing a donation.

Hinton said the group’s logic is that “it’s better to build children than repair adults.”

“It would be nice to say someday there isn’t a need for youth assistance. However, we must be realistic — growing up is an experiment every step of the way,” Hinton said. “Some learn the easy way, and some the hard way. It’s my hope that our efforts continue to touch the lives of our youth.”  

For more information about Hazel Park Youth Assistance, including how to make donations, call HPYA’s office at (248) 658-5551.