Federal funds to help local kids

BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

Clarkston area kids will get to attend summer camp and other activities, even if their families cannot afford it, after recent unanimous approval by the Independence Township Board to allocate Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to Clarkston Area Youth Assistance (CAYA).
Independence Township Parks, Recreation and Seniors received $52,303 in the federal Housing and Urban Development CDBG program for 2020, with 30 percent, $15,691, available for public services, said Barbara Rollin, senior division supervisor at the Independence Township Senior Community Center.
“That amount has been reduced from what we have gotten in previous years,” said Rollin at the Nov. 12 board of trustees regular meeting.
The remaining 70 percent, $36,612, is being used for minor home repairs, Rollin said.
“This is a very important program in our community,” she said. “We allow up to $5,000 for people to get water heaters, roofs, things they need on their home.”
Since 2017, the department has alternated distributing its public-service CDBG funds to CAYA and HAVEN, as both organizations have approached the township for funds. CAYA is earmarked for the 2019 funds, which have not been released yet. HAVEN would then get the 2020 funds.
CAYA’s only resource for CDBG funds is Independence Township, said CAYA Vice Chair Jan Scislowicz.
“We have a lot of kids with a lot of need in Independence Township,” Scislowicz said. “HAVEN is a wonderful organization and we both try to work toward the same goals in building the betterment of our community, helping kids and youth. Clarkston Area Youth Assistance is very limited in our resources we can actually get, especially from something like CDBG funds. We can’t go to Walled Lake, Rochester or Lake Orion to get funds because all the youth assistance organizations are under the umbrella of the Oakland County court systems. We would be taking money from someone else if we did that.”
The free lunch program at North Sashabaw Elementary is 47 percent, meaning 47 percent of those families are low income, added Scislowicz.
Scislowicz noted in 2019, CAYA was awarded $5,000 from Independence Township, while HAVEN received $95,805 from 20 Oakland County communities.
In 2018, she said CAYA’s total assets were $22,000 with one part-time paid staff member, and HAVEN’s total assets in 2018 were almost $20 million. Scislowicz said HAVEN also has professional grant writers.
“Again, we’re not trying to say we’re better – HAVEN is a wonderful organization – but we need the resources here,” she said. “Our volunteers live and/or work in Clarkston, and we put in thousands of hours. We seriously log thousands of hours in this community to help kids, and it’s very difficult to get funds to do what we want to do. It’s very difficult to compete with (HAVEN). We don’t have the manpower to solicit that amount of funds.”
“We have been able to help so many kids throughout the years,” added Debbie Wertz, office manager for CAYA. “These families cannot afford counseling or any kind of skill building, football, driver’s training, anything like that. I have had so many parents thankful in tears tell me their kid is 17-years-old now and can finally take driver’s training. There are so many things right here in our own community where we need to keep making that impact – the funds are less, so there will be less of an impact. We really have to look at our own kids.”
Wertz said the funds can only be used for kids aged 13-18, per adjusted HUD guidelines in 2016.
“The money in 2018 went to HAVEN and we struggled,” Wertz said. “We had to say no to so many families. We could not help them. We’re trying to keep our heads above water. Even if we don’t have that little amount we’re going to have to turn down more kids.”
Trustee Paul Brown, a lifelong Independence Township resident, said he benefited from CAYA in his youth.
“Having troubles and from a poor family, I was able to go to camp one summer because of that here in Clarkston,” Brown said. “It was pretty impactful on me, helped straighten me out, I think. I’m pretty biased toward really wanting to do this for them (CAYA). I thought they made a pretty good presentation of the impact this would have on them to not have it.”
“I think when we have this opportunity, it’s good to keep the money at home and do as much as we can with it locally,” added Trustee Ron Ritchie.
CAYA is a non-profit organization funded through the Oakland County Health Division-Office of Substance Abuse, along with private and business donations. For more information, please visit ClarkstonYouth.org.