This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–In a room on George Street filled with books, educational games, and bright posters on the walls, Barry Smith talks about hot dogs.
“We try to feed the kids every time,” he says, referring to the X-cite Night program. “On Monday they got hot dogs and chips.”
X-cite Night, a sports and recreation program that runs from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM on Monday and Thursdays, is one of the many programs run by Barry Smith, the staff, and the volunteers at Youth Empowerment Services.
Started in 2003, Youth Empowerment Services runs on the simple yet profound idea that children can shape their future by making positive choices. The YES slogan, “My Future, My Choice” reflects the idea of empowerment that is made clear in every program YES organizes and executes.
“We try to teach kids to make good choices,” Smith says.
Through programs such as X-Cite Night, Community After School Tutoring (CAST), the annual summer camp, and more, YES is working hard to show youth all the options they have. Every program strives to accomplish two goals: to provide a safe space for youth to be themselves, and to instill positive values. Some of the values listed on the website are community, integrity, love, respect, safety, and teamwork.
One of the largest and most successful programs that YES runs is the Community After School Tutoring, or CAST, program. With a group of over 100 volunteers from Rutgers University, local churches, and other programs, CAST provides every child with individualized tutoring and literacy training. Each participant is guided through homework and then asked to read aloud for fifteen minutes and then journal about what they read. Children can pick reading material from a fairly extensive library full of both classics and contemporary favorites.
Another popular program that YES organizes is the Mentors Assisting Children, or MAC, program. This mentoring program provides New Brunswick Youth with a positive adult role model who spends time with the child in a safe environment. Mentors are paired with mentees through the work of a social worker and an extensive application process on the part of the mentor. After passing a background check and displaying the approval of several references, mentors are matched with a child. There are currently 32 mentor-mentee pairs.
YES has many successful mentorship stories such as a boy who, through the help of his mentor, graduated high school and enrolled in a mechanics program. He is now a prosperous mechanic with plans to open his own garage one day.
Another success story tells of a man who initially was aggressive and wayward. With the partnership that the MAC program provided, the mentee was able graduate college and now works as the Dean of Admissions for a prestigious college institution.
While the MAC program is doing well, Barry Smith did mention one component that could use some help: finding additional male volunteers. There is a waiting list for boys who “are looking for a male role model to help them with life challenges,” Smith said.
Mentoring can be a rewarding and wonderful experience, Barry Smith explains. He encourages mentors to not always plan elaborate activities but to rather take mentees to “get some pizza or burgers or something and sit down and see what’s going on.”
In the future, YES is working on providing college preparedness activities for high school students such as college tours, inviting career professionals to speak, and running SAT prep courses.
The YES board is also working on organizing a program that will provide arts education and activities, including music and painting, to children between the first and eighth grades.
After seeing a need for it in the community, YES began to branch out to provide programs for adults. They offer a free résumé clinic, and hold Conversation Cafés. During the café program, native Spanish speakers and native English speakers chat in English about a suggested topic such as family, recreational activities, or favorite foods. This laid-back atmosphere helps those who are trying to learn English by providing a judgment-free zone where they can practice their skills without feeling pressured.
Youth Empowerment Services has been providing great and inspirational programming to the city’s children for over ten years and has no plans of stopping. Barry Smith has confided that he never plans on retiring because he can’t imagine his life without working with YES.
“Lives change just because we love them so much,” Smith says of the program participants. “That’s what [YES] is all about.” Showing children that “they can change their lives and that their future matters.”
To sign up to volunteer, or to contribute to YES in anyway, call 732-937-9377 or go to youthempowerment.us.