December 23, 2014
Center helps at-risk youth say “yes” to a healthy lifestyle
Kids in crisis often don’t have access to the most basic resources.
Youth Emergency Services — also known as YES — provides crucial support to homeless and at-risk youth at several locations around Omaha.
Every month, YES serves more than 600 meals at its downtown drop-in center, where kids in need can get basic hygiene items, meals and snacks.
On a typical pantry day, held every Tuesday and Thursday, the center sees 40 to 60 youth, says Shawn Miller, outreach coordinator.
“These kids probably don’t have access to fruits and vegetables. Some were never taught and or don’t have a role model for good choices. They need better options than fast food.”
Miller says YES wanted to be part of Partners for a Healthy City to help educate kids about what good-for-you eating looks like.
In the past, cookies were a staple. Today, youth who stop by the center or encounter a street outreach worker can get energized with a piece of fruit, a granola bar and a bottle of water.
“I wasn’t sure how kids would respond,” says Miller. “But now they ask for these foods because they don’t get a lot of them.” Apples and oranges are popular because they easily fit into a backpack.
The effort also has involved educating the organization’s donors about providing smart food options.
Churches, groups, individuals and families in the community regularly prepare meals for the center. Now that they know about the healthy direction the organization is taking, they’ve embraced the change.
YES is encouraging other positive behaviors among staff, too. The team walks to meetings when possible and some employees bike to work. A bike rack provides extra incentive for commuters and visitors.
The shift to a new mindset has evolved naturally, Miller says. “It sounds like a lot when you first do it. But it’s pretty common-sense stuff. You wonder why you didn’t do it all along.”