United Way of Story County (UWSC) has been advancing the common good since 1953. In celebration of its anniversary, UWSC is taking a closer look at some of the partners who have provided much needed programs to the community throughout the past 60 years. This month’s column features Youth & Shelter Services (YSS), which provides prevention, education, treatment and residential services to children, youth and families.

YSS served over 5,000 individuals last year. Dr. George Belitsos, founder and current CEO of Youth & Shelter Services, says he is most proud of the comprehensive youth-serving system YSS has developed.

"We’ve maintained a positive youth development approach throughout all programs," Belitsos says. "We’ve stayed true to our mission of serving all kids despite challenges, funding cuts and other difficulties that come along with being a nonprofit. We’ve been able to do so because of United Way of Story County and other funders, as well as local support."

YSS just celebrated 7,500 total youth served since the beginning of Rosedale Shelter, Iowa’s first emergency youth shelter. In addition to serving system-involved kids who get funding from the state, Rosedale is one of the few shelters that also serves non-system youth who come to YSS either looking for help on their own or who are brought there by their parents. Belitsos again credits United Way of Story County and other funders that make it possible to serve all youth, including those who have trouble at home or need a temporary time-out, without having to get the system involved.

Ages 10 up to 18 are served at Rosedale. Belitsos says the kids served could be runaways, homeless, needing an alternative to jail, enduring child abuse or awaiting longer-term placement … YSS has seen it all.

"I was there when the first resident needed a place to go," recalls Belitsos. "She was a local young lady who didn’t want to return home. We found a house with the help of the Ames-ISU YMCA, which no longer exists, opened it and ran it completely with volunteers."

Volunteers, to this day, have remained the backbone of the program. There is over 200 full-time equivalent paid staff but YSS has close to 500 volunteers.

Rosedale was the only program when YSS got started. Youth & Shelter Services, Inc. was founded after the shelter got going and incorporated in 1976. All YSS programs are needed and beneficial to those involved, as well as the broader community. "We’re doing a lot of diversion from the court and DHS," said Belitsos.

As for the future, Belitsos is looking most forward to continuing to reinvent YSS to adjust to the ever-changing needs of youth and the problems they are having in school, in the community and at home. "My staff and I have been honored to divert troubled kids to reinvent themselves."

(Sara Wilson is marketing director for United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building county-wide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support, and evaluates effective human services for our diverse community.)