By Bob McCullough | Photography courtesy of RMYA
It started as a short-term solution for kids who were runaways or who were having family difficulties. Now, almost 40 years later, Roy Maas Youth Alternatives’ efforts to help troubled youngsters continue to grow to meet a
never-ending need for assistance.
It started as a short-term solution for kids who were runaways or who were having family difficulties. Now, almost 40 years later, Roy Maas Youth Alternatives’ efforts to help troubled youngsters continue to grow to meet a never-ending need for assistance.
Much of the organization’s work now takes place at the MeadowLand Campus, a 40-acre facility in Boerne that functions as a long-term residential treatment center for up to 80 children ages 6 to 17. MeadowLand deals with more-serious emotional problems, usually resulting from severe abuse and neglect. The campus is also site of the MeadowLand Charter School that helps MeadowLand residents and other at-risk youth in the Boerne Independent School District to achieve academic success.
The nearby Burdick Community Center, which opened in 2012 to accommodate up to 350 guests, serves the MeadowLand community as a gathering place for a variety of activities, and it’s also available to local organizations for their evening and weekend special events. All proceeds from rentals benefit Roy Maas Youth Alternatives.
So much good has been accomplished since September 1976 when Maas spearheaded the opening of the Bridge Emergency Shelter and took in 16 boys from broken homes. Two years later, the Bridge and Girlsville merged to become Youth Alternatives Inc., the “umbrella concept” now operating as Roy Maas Youth Alternatives (RMYA), named in honor of the first executive director. The organization has since provided counseling and shelter to more than 80,000 youths in crisis. It has grown into several entities with the mission of “restoring hope, one child at a time,” says CEO Bill Wilkinson.
Today, the Bridge Emergency Shelter in San Antonio provides round-the-clock care for up to 20 children ages 5 to 17 who need a safe place to stay for a short period of time. The Family Counseling and Resource Center offers individual and family counseling, crisis intervention and life skills training for at-risk children and families.
The TurningPoint Transitional Living Program prepares homeless young people to live on their own and to prevent their future involvement with social service and judicial systems as adults. It has three houses for 18- to 21-year-old males and one house for 18- to 21-year-old females.
Last but not least, the Youth Alternatives Thrift Shop at 3103 West Avenue in San Antonio coordinates all donations and provides job training for TurningPoint residents. It also offers shopping bargains and raises money for Youth Alternatives programs.
This happens to be a particularly exciting time of year for young Youth Alternatives clients because of the approach of Thanksgiving. Approximately 100 of them will be treated to a Thanksgiving feast generously donated by Lana Duke, owner of two Ruth’s Chris steak houses in San Antonio and soon a third on La Cantera Terrace across from The Rim shopping complex on I-10. On November 22, Duke and her employee volunteers will gather at the Ruth’s Chris Concord Plaza location and prepare 200 pounds of turkey and all the trimmings.
“Along with a delicious meal, I like to give a lot of love and encouragement,” says Duke, who grew up in the Canadian foster care system and who knows firsthand what it means not to have a supportive family. “I share my own story with the children in hopes they will be inspired enough to succeed in their own dreams. This year’s theme is ‘Never Give Up.’ If my story can help them see a glimmer of hope and encourage them to keep trying and strive to find their own happiness in life, then that is my greatest success.”
In addition to hosting a special Thanksgiving dinner every year for the past decade, Duke has visited Youth Alternatives campuses, conducted etiquette dinners and run a summer job training program for older teens and young adults, even hiring former residents. A former TurningPoint resident went through Duke’s training/internship program and still works at Ruth’s Chris.
Other success stories include a young man who’s now in the Navy performing paralegal duties and a young woman who earned an associate degree on her way to enrollment now at Texas State University in San Marcos. These and other young people who’ve triumphed over adversity can trace their achievements to the stability that Youth Alternatives offers in an atmosphere of love and attention that their families couldn’t provide, says Lisa Brothers, grants and outreach coordinator.
To continue accomplishing its vital mission, Youth Alternatives will break ground on a new and larger Bridge Emergency Shelter, thanks to a sizeable donation from the Valero Energy Foundation as well as being named recipient of the Charity Ball Association’s 60th Anniversary Significant Impact Grant. Completion of this project in late 2016 will enable the Family Counseling and Resource Center to expand into the area currently occupied by the Bridge and will mean more counseling services including play therapy, music therapy and art therapy.
“We’re also proud of our new out-patient clinic for child and adolescent psychiatry,” Brothers says. “There is such a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists that families are waiting six to nine months just to get an initial consultation/assessment. Through a grant from the United Way, we began partnering with the psychiatry department at the UT Health Science Center to provide a clinic on Thursday mornings for children up to 17 years at our Family Counseling and Resource Center.
“By getting children the help they need before they get placed in foster care, we’re working to reduce abuse and a breakdown of families before the judicial system gets involved.”
Unfortunately, family breakdowns continue, just as they did four decades ago. As Maas once observed many years ago, “Our children have many obstacles to overcome. We provide the help and tools children need to understand that they can lead a positive life and become productive citizens in our community.”
That’s a better alternative to becoming entangled in one problem after another emanating from a rocky start in life.
Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives
Counseling Center: 210.340.7971
The Bridge: 210.340.7933
Thrift Shop: 210.340.0811