Community celebration set for Friday

The calendar this week says Friday is the 13th, but superstition should not keep anyone from having a fun event that day. Seneca Mentoring Youth Links is hosting a free Party in the Park Friday evening at Hedges-Boyer Park.

A pool party with free swimming is to be available 4-8:30 p.m. and a teen dance is 8:30-11:30 p.m. in the parking lot next to the pool. Everything is free.

“When we started the SMYL mentoring program, we targeted at least quarterly community events, not only for the mentors to go to with their youngsters, but also for the community to be more aware of what SMYL is and give kids something else to do,” said Sharon George, director of Seneca County Family and Children First Council.

Children 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. Free hot dogs, chips and bottled water are to be served in Shelter 3. Participants also can make snow cones at the Snowie Daze Bus. George said the event is the product of collaboration from Tiffin Parks and Recreation, the YMCA and Tiffin Paper Company. DJ Marty Maksemitz is to provide music for the dance.

“The kids are putting together a playlist,” George said.

Another volunteer is to set up a light show. Beach balls and glow wands will complete the party atmosphere. George said it is a way for youth to celebrate the end of the school year and the start of summer.

Jami Opp was hired last fall as a part-time case manager for SMYL. In January, the Mental Health Board awarded unused levy funds to increase Opp’s hours to 30 per week. Over the past nine months, she has matched 23 students with mentors, and the 24th match is in progress. Eleven children remain on a waiting list.

“We have matches happening in Tiffin, Bloomville, Fostoria and Green Springs,” Opp said. “We are still looking for mentors. We’ll always be looking for mentors.”

Adults interested in mentoring with SMYL must commit to invest a minimum of four hours per month with the youth. Opp also started a school mentoring program called “School Pals” in which students from Columbian High School were transported to Tiffin Middle School and paired with younger students who needed mentors. Opp supervised structured activities the group did together during school hours. TMS students received participation awards at the end of the school year, and Columbian students were given Asset Builder awards, named for the 40 Developmental Assets.

“We also gave an award to a kid who I thought just stood out against bullying and stood up for his school. Blake Borer-Miller is his name. I gave him the Asset Builder Starfish award … for making a difference in the life of others,” Opp said. “I was really proud of this boy.”

A graduating senior, Borer-Miller was active in theater and music at Columbian. Opp referred to starfish, emphasizing making an effort, even if it helps only one individual. George said School Pals is to continue.

“That will pick up in the fall, and we’re looking to expand that into Fostoria and NCA (North Central Academy),” George said. “The board and the council are very pleased with SMYL’s progress.”

Kristen Williams, a SMYL board member, arranged for a Heidelberg University student, Jessie Gase, to serve an internship with Opp. Gase is to help with marketing and compose a set of questions that can be used to evaluate the outcomes of the SMYL program.

Gase worked with Opp to put out the summer 2014 SMYL newsletter and to log the hours matches have spent together. Volunteer mentors have spent more than 240 hours with local children. Opp is appreciative of the extra help from Gase.

“She is incredible,” Opp said. “She’s working … to put information into our database and get our own statistics on how well the program is working and what benefits there are for the kids.”

Although SMYL has existed about a year, George said the community has been supportive. In addition to SMYL’s own fundraisers, contributions also were donated from the 2013 Loudfest, Tiffin Rotary, Leadership Seneca County and the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. Grant funds have come in from Tiffin Charitable’s Betty Jane Foundation and the B.A. Seitz Fund.

“National Machinery (Foundation) gave us a matching grant for up to $25,000, so for every dollar we raise, they will match that up to $25,000,” George said. “The revenue that we have received has been just fabulous.”

Opp said Hopewell-Loudon also has expressed interest in the “School Pals” program.

“I’m doing as much as I can to help as many kids as I can,” she said.

The phone number for SMYL is (419) 443-0981.