A recent $3,400 donation from the Dick Pope/Polk County Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association, proceeds from the third annual Carillon Classic 5K, will ensure more kids get the help they need today and hope for tomorrow.
“We’re very appreciative to FPRA for all their hard work,” said Glenn Parkinson, shelter director for the George W. Harris Jr. Runaway and Youth Crisis Shelter in Bartow. “It’s great to see families spending time with their kids in nature at Bok Tower Gardens, but the 5K is about taking care of the children. We’ll be able to repair the air conditioning and take care of the kids the best way we can.”
Part of the Youth and Family Alternatives, the shelter impacts more than 600 lives of youth ages 10-17 from Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties who need a short-term temporary home. The goal is to help strengthen families and to help return home youngsters who can become productive members of society.
“We deal with a lot of domestic violence cases,” Parkinson explained. “They’re really good kids and smart kids who have gone through difficult times. Education is sometimes not a priority when they have to figure out where they’re going to live next.”
Positive life changes are not always immediately visible.
“We’re trying to build trust and undo years of problems,” revealed Parkinson. “You’re planting seeds and by the time we get a kid, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done trying to heal their scars, pains and hurts. We provide a lot of structure so they can be kids with a place to sleep, a bedtime, three meals a day, clean clothes, showers and education. They’re not doing drugs so their grades improve and a lot of them gain weight from all the food we provide.”
Cook4Kids, a monthly potluck dinner hosted by the shelter’s leadership council, is one of the shelter’s recipes for success.
“It’s not just the food, although it’s always great and we have a ton of it,” said Mary Ann Harrell, council member who enlisted the Crickette Club, a business women’s civic organization, to donate food.
“We eat with the kids and talk with them like a family. We ask them why they’re here and what they’re going to do different when they leave the shelter,” she said.
Dedicated in 2007, the shelter provides 24-hour, 7-day a week admission services, youth supervision, food, clothing if needed, crisis counseling, life skills education, and individual and family counseling. It was named for the banker and philanthropist who served as the first co-chair of YFA local advisory board for the tri-county area. George Harris through Citrus and Chemical Bank, was instrumental in starting these services by providing the original church camp property in Mulberry.
The 9,100 square foot shelter has an administration area with offices for counselors and the program director. A large youth room connects to the dining room and adjacent kitchen. There are separate dorm areas for 12 and 12 boys with six bedrooms. A screened patio includes a pool table and a basketball court is set in the wooded back yard of the facility.
There is no fee for program services. Educational services are provided by the local school district. Located at 1060 U.S. 17 S. in Bartow, call 863-595-0220 or visit www.yfainc.org for more information.