Access to sports, fine arts and other groups such as science clubs and 4-H are not equally available to all students nor can all families afford to pay for activities that many take for granted. That’s where Youth Advantage comes in as a nonprofit organization founded in 2009. It offers young people in Stillwater who qualify for free and reduced-fee lunch an opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities.
Their mission is to make sure no students have to sacrifice their passions simply because they are lacking the necessary funds. Youth Advantage offers scholarships for arts, athletics, and education-enrichment programs, access to equipment for sports and musical instruments, as well as financial assistance for any programs or activities that require participation fees.
“Youth Advantage connects children from families in need to their peers through participation in these extracurricular activities, promoting the social, mental, emotional and physical developmental assets deemed necessary for a healthy and productive adulthood,” executive director Suzanne Block says.
In order to maintain the organization, Youth Advantage’s funding comes primarily from foundation grants and fundraisers, which include the Mardi Gras and Stairs of Stillwater events. The organization also relies on donations from individuals as well as corporations and civic clubs.
There are currently around 1,400 children eligible to utilize Youth Advantage’s services. In order to be considered, students must qualify for free and reduced-fee lunch, be in grades K–12 and attend school in the Stillwater area school district 834. In 2017, 609 scholarships were awarded to 335 students.
“Youth Advantage believes that if a child is given the opportunity to find and pursue his or her passion and is in an environment conducive to succeeding in that passion, the child will likely choose to stay on the path to success both academically and personally,” Block says.
Youth Advantage offers two main programs to help students. The Youth Scholarship Program allows students to participate in the activities and the Equipment Provision Program supplies the proper equipment needed to be a part of an activity, such as sports attire or equipment and musical instruments, which are donated by community members or acquired by specific grants intended for that purpose.
“In 2017, Youth Advantage provided its clients with 589 pieces of athletic equipment for organized activities as well as casual play … we loaned 67 children instruments to participate in their schools’ band and orchestra programs,” Block says.
Not only does Youth Advantage provide these scholarships, but it also works closely with families to ensure they are made aware of any and all opportunities available to them and their children. Youth Advantage helps families in all areas of their lives such as finding housing services, dental and health care, legal aid and counseling. They even try to make the holiday season special for everyone by connecting them to partnering organizations that provide free Christmas trees and Thanksgiving meals.
“Youth Advantage is a small organization with staff and volunteers who show genuine interest in helping others thus clients feel safe in sharing their needs beyond what they came in for that day,” Block says.
Youth Advantage always welcomes the support of individuals who want to invest in the futures of local youth. Those interested can volunteer for positions such as activity or school liaison. There are also two annual fundraisers—the Stairs of Stillwater 5K and the Mardi Gras gala hosted in the spring—that could always use an extra helping hand. To contribute to the gala, consider attending the event or donating a silent or live auction item that directly raises money for the organization.
Youth Advantage will be holding its fifth annual Mardi Gras fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1st, 2019, at 7 Vines Vineyard, Dellwood, MN. The event will feature fabulous festivities, silent and live auctions, New Orleans flare, food and fun! Click here for more information.