Carmel Youth Assistance Program Feeds Local Families Through Carmel Summer Meals & Pack the Cruiser Event
Writer / Megan Arszman
Sometimes it’s the little guy that needs the most help, and that’s why the Carmel Youth Assistance Program (CYAP) has been working to strengthen Carmel’s youth and families through community involvement. The mostly referral-based program works in collaboration with Carmel Clay Schools, the City of Carmel and Hamilton County Superior Court.
The program was initially started in 2009 in Westfield to serve the youth of Hamilton County. Now there is one program serving each municipality, and Carmel’s program started in 2015. The program was originally created to help keep kids out of the juvenile justice system through early intervention.
“We’re not a direct service provider,” says Melissa Yarger, early intervention advocate for the CYAP. “We meet the families where they are and ask ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can we get there?’ We try to bridge gaps wherever we can so our kids are happy and healthy.”
In 2017, Carmel Summer Meals was launched to help families that struggle during the summer months to feed their children. “For most families, these kids were being fed a free breakfast and lunch through the school, so to then have them struggle to find meals for two months, we knew we needed to help,” Yarger says.
This year, more than 400 Carmel kids will be served. Families that qualify for the federally reduced meal program through the school system are eligible for the Carmel Summer Meals Program. The deadline to sign up was May 1.
“We provide ingredients for families, specifically the kids, to create their own breakfast and lunch during the summer months,” Yarger says.
Meal ingredients such as cereal, bread, lunch meat, yogurt and hot dogs are packed up once per week for families to pick up. Hot meals are not included, due to the need for children to be able to make the meals for themselves as well as the safety of the minors.
One rather large food drive for the Carmel Summer Meals program is the “Pack the Cruiser” event in partnership with the Carmel Police Department and Kroger. The food drive is a county-wide event, with every Kroger participating with its municipality’s youth assistance program and police department. The Kroger stores located at 1217 South Rangeline Road and 10679 North Michigan Road hosted the event on June 2.
Kroger shoppers are asked to donate specific items while they are shopping, and volunteers are there at the exits to accept and box up the donations.
“It’s our biggest food drive for the program,” Yarger says. “In fact, we found out quickly that police cruisers do not hold nearly enough. We use box trucks to load everything up.”
The Merciful HELP Center, located at 1045 West 146th Street, is a continuing partner for the Carmel Summer Meals program. St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church, at 10655 Haverstick Road, houses the program for storage and packing. Donations are accepted throughout the year. Specific food items that are always needed include boxed cereal, boxed granola bars and Teddy Grahams. Financial donations can be made online.
Another important focus for CYAP is mentoring. “We still connect kids to different things like summer camps, mental health support and financial assistance,” Yarger says. “We’ll coordinate resources for them, but the mentoring is my favorite part of what we do.”
The CYAP mentoring program matches one adult with one youth as young as 5, to spend at least one hour per week together for one year. The pairing is about creating a bond and lightening a child’s mood, and involves fun activities such as playing at the park, cooking a meal together, taking a walk down the Monon Trail or whatever activity appeals to the youth.
Mentors are all volunteers that pass through background checks and training prior to matching with youths (who are also screened). Kids from all sorts of backgrounds are part of the mentoring program. “They just need another positive adult in their life,” Yarger says.
The common age range for the mentoring program is from sixth grade to high school freshman. Children are referred to the program by their school’s social worker. Adults interested in being a mentor can sign up on the CYAP website.
To learn more, visit youthassistance.org/carmel.