On July 30, St. Andrews Optimists hosted a two-speaker breakfast in order to hear from a pair of causes that the Club has supported for several years. In each case, that support has been financial and at times, in-person interaction with youth.
The first speaker was Brian Riddle, Athletic Coordinator for Seven Oaks Park and its youth sports programs. In that role, he manages all sports, with responsibility for registering teams, recruiting coaches and officials, formulating schedules, and coordinating that entire enterprise. In the course of a normal year, more than 2,400 youth participate in one or more sports at Seven Oaks Park.
Riddle also oversees a youth scholarship program to broaden the number of participants. That program ensures young athletes have their registration fees covered, and it can also provide equipment where applicable.
Riddle reported participation in youth sports is on the decline in the U.S. The average age in the U.S. when kids drop out of sports participation is now 10.5 years. Those who drop out, for whatever reason, can potentially miss out on the ancillary benefits of youth sports, some of which are: 1. Higher test scores; 2. Less smoking, drug, and alcohol use; 3. Lower incidence of depression; 4. Higher participation rate in other healthy activities; and finally 5. A better concept of teamwork.
Jill McHugh then took the podium to give the Club an update on Palmetto Place, where she is the Executive Director. Palmetto Place is an institution, founded in the 1970s, that serves troubled youth. Its clients are all referred there by South Carolina DSS.
Those youth come from backgrounds that can include abuse, neglect, abandonment, or homelessness. Palmetto Place operates two campuses, each run with a combination of staff and volunteers, and it offers a safe place for those youth to try to put their lives back together.
“Campus A,” located in downtown Columbia, is a Foster Care group home housing females whose ages can be anywhere from birth to 21 years old. It has a capacity of 20 beds and operates 24 hours a day with a combination of Palmetto Place staff and volunteers.
“Campus B,” which originated in 2012, is intended for unaccompanied youth—aged 16 to 21– who are not cared for by any other system. Campus B serves as a full-time home, with sleeping quarters and meals provided. The primary goal at Campus B is to equip its clients for a productive future life. From a starting point of interviewing clients to learn their backgrounds, the staff puts together a plan whose long-term goal is self-sufficiency, and ideally a living condition much more normal than they had experienced.
Caring for youth in the conditions described entails numerous services and programs, some of which can be tutoring, transportation to and from school, assisting with medical issues, instruction on how to manage a household, and financial responsibility. There are three workshops focused on independent living every week.