To paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt, society is beholden to building a better future for youth—and to building youth for that future.
If this year’s Santa Cruz Gives drive is any indication, the commitment to fostering positive formative experiences for youth and giving them the tools to succeed is strong. For 2023, 26 youth serving organizations are seeking to get the community’s support for their Big Idea 2024: a specific goal or project they are hoping to raise funding for to complete.
From food justice, climate justice and environmental stewardship to mentorships and career training, local organizations are investing in childrens’ potential. These are some organizations that are sowing the seeds of possibility for society’s future adults.
MENtors Driving Change For Boys Men and Dads
Founded in 2017, MENtors has been creating opportunities and nurturing environments to identify, resist and replace “toxic masculinity” among the county’s boys, men and fathers. Its mission is anchored in the belief that individuals have the potential for emotional and social development through the positive impact of a mentor.
Deutron Kebebew, the executive director of MENtors, says the organization helps boys and men have better relationships, self awareness and a deeper sense of connection.
“Our work really addresses gender-specific services for boys, young men, men and fathers, with the idea that they can have a better and healthier social and emotional development that improves their connection, awareness and relationship with themselves, their family and their community,” Kebebew says.
MENtors employs the 40 developmental assets, a framework that teaches individuals “external and internal assets,” according to the Search Institute. External assets include the development of a family support network and personal boundary setting, while internal assets include developing self-esteem and peaceful conflict resolution.
The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns are still being felt and Deutron says that boys and young men are particularly vulnerable to the ongoing issues related to it.
“The needs are more compounded because of Covid,” Kebebew says. “We see it with parents as well as young men. They’re really disconnected from school. So the more they get disconnected, they’re going to drop out and that’s going to lead toward a negative pathway. We’re actively trying to support our Pajaro Valley youth as well as Santa Cruz youth.”
The organization’s main focus is to reach middle school-aged boys who are in need of mentorship during a critical time in their life. It also works with older boys and young men to develop social and emotional skills later in life. The program for fathers is designed to help them create a positive connection between them and their children. Based in Watsonville, MENtors has a presence in South County, but with the help of this year’s Santa Cruz Gives drive, it is hoping to add 100 new mentors to their roster in 2024.
Kebebew wants people in the community to reflect on how role models outside of their households have positively impacted them in their lives. He wants the same for minority and low-income boys and men for whom it may not be easy to find such a person.
“We’re intentionally trying to support them in a positive way so that they can have opportunities and see themselves beyond just surviving, but thriving.”
Additional Youth-Serving Organizations
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County
Since 1982, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County has served over 8,500 at-risk youth at no cost through its proven model of mentoring services. It serves youth of all genders ages 6-19 and offers support for families as well.
This year, the organization’s campaign is “It Takes Little To Be Big” and invites the community to become a mentor or volunteer. “It takes a little time, a dash of encouragement, and a hearty laugh or two” to help brighten the lives of young people, according to the organization. To be a mentor is to change lives in no small way.
Girls Inc. of the Central Coast
Girls Inc. serves 1,300 girls in 21 schools across the area, pairing them with trained mentors who work with them in a safe environment. Mentees are inspired to pursue higher education, develop leadership skills and serve their communities,
For its Big Idea 2024, Girls Inc. seeks to expand its leadership mentoring program and bring100 girls together to meet twice a month during the school year. It will participate in 14 interactive sessions covering topics including college planning, public speaking and nutrition education.
Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services
Since 1998, Jacob’s Heart has provided emotional,financial and peer support to hundreds of local children and teens with cancer as they go through treatment. Additionally, it has helped thousands of family members get through the grief and bereavement process.
80% of Jacob’s Heart families rely on its transportation services, and for this year’s campaign the organization’s goal is to purchase a hybrid vehicle to help transport kids in treatment. A safe and reliable vehicle will make a difference for many low-income families who need to get to appointments in the Bay Area and beyond.
Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance
Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA) aims to improve the quality of life for children, youth and families of the greater Pajaro Valley. By providing health education, mental health, and substance use services, the organization promotes well-being in the community.
For 2024, its goal is to serve a minimum of 60 families split into three groups that will engage in 12 educational sessions. The focus will be on family unity and will help with skill development to counter the disconnect, isolation and conflict that pulls them apart. Topics will include positive identity, self-advocacy, substance/violence prevention and leadership development.
Live Like Coco
The Live Like Coco Foundation gives local kids the opportunity to get involved in beach clean ups, planting gardens, art classes and field trips. However, the foundation is best known for its literacy program.
Its Big Idea for 2024 is to convert a commercial step van and build a bookmobile with the help of Watsonville Charter School of the Arts. The mobile library will hold up to 2,000 books and is a win-win for both organizations. Currently, the charter school does not have a library and its students will have access to the bookmobile’s catalog. Live Like Coco will use it for outreach and book delivery during the summer and weekends.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Cruz County
The Boys & Girls Club helps with social and character development for youth ages 6 to 18 by offering educational, vocational and recreational programs. After school programs are offered five days a week at their Santa Cruz, Live Oak, and Scotts Valley clubhouses, in addition to summer camps.
As the need for financial assistance for participating families has grown, in 2024 the organization is raising donations to fund their club scholarships for working families.
CASA of Santa Cruz County
CASA of Santa Cruz County advocates for children in the court system by providing court-appointed volunteers that help them feel connected and cared for. For 30 years, CASA has served foster youth and recently launched a mentorship pilot program for youth on probation for minor offenses.
For 2024, CASA wants to expand its Advocates program. The program will provide mentorship and connection to needed services, experiences, and opportunities to help juveniles comply with their probation requirements. Based on data from the pilot project, CASA has determined that 50% of individuals in the program are less likely to reoffend and have a substantial increase in their self-efficacy.
Digital NEST provides underserved Latino youth with the skills, resources and network to build confidence and launch successful careers. By providing access to technology and career building opportunities, the organization is helping create the area’s next tech entrepreneurs.
The Big idea in 2024 is to expand its bizzNEST program to provide up to 40 young adults ages 18-24 with real-world, paid experience in web and graphic design, web development, and/or video production internships. The year-long internship will have participants work with Digital NEST staff and local professionals to network and build a portfolio.
Santa Cruz Gives is funded by the generosity of Good Times, Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Applewood Foundation, Joe Collins, Driscoll’s, Inc., Monterey Peninsula Foundation, Comcast, Santa Cruz County Bank, Wynn Capital Management, The Pajaronian, and Press Banner.