A hopeful safe space for Fostoria teens

The city of Fostoria needs the community’s support to bring in enough votes to receive funding to create an afterschool program for teenagers grades 6-9.
Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 10:44 PM EDT
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FOSTORIA, Ohio (WTVG) - State Farm is in the midst of its Neighborhood Assist Campaign. The initiative consists of communities across the country all submitting proposals that would make positive impacts in their neighborhoods.

Now the City of Fostoria needs your vote in the Campaign to help bring money to their community, to nurture the potential of teens while promoting healthy living and developing a sense of social responsibility.

“There are 40 programs that win and each one gets $25,000 from State Farm, so it would make a big impact especially to our local one in the running in Fostoria to get an afterschool program," said Seneca County State Farm Agent Nicole Miller.

Miller is not only an insurance agent. Nicole is a member of the Seneca Mentoring Youth Links or SMYL, a group aimed at giving opportunities to school-aged kids in the community. Currently, SMYL provides an afterschool program for students in grades 6-9 in Tiffin.

Seneca Mentoring Youth Links provides local teens a safe space.
Seneca Mentoring Youth Links provides local teens a safe space.(Jack Bassett)

“It really honestly provides a shelter for them because there are troubled youth and these could be some kids who could be troubled youth if they didn’t have this program," said SYML mentor Rachel Simpson.

For the past two years, Rachel Simpson has served as a mentor for students in the group. SYML’s afterschool program currently is located inside Little Faith Ministries. The free program offers a place for students to complete homework, have a snack, and unwind from a long day of school.

Simpson explains as a volunteer her services can range anywhere from helping lead craft activities, to engaging in deep personal talks with students.

“It’s literally their smile. Like them feeling fulfilled that someone is there for them, and it has made an impact on me as well, that’s the best part,” said Simpson.

SYML mentor, Rachel Simpson works side by side students offering guidance on the groups current craft activity.
SYML mentor, Rachel Simpson works side by side students offering guidance on the groups current craft activity.(Jack Bassett)

Inside Little Faith Ministries you can find students playing air hockey, piecing together puzzles, and snacking on warm gooey macaroni. SYML Mentor Coordinator Matt Coleman explains as enjoyable as their activities can be, the group is not just focused on fun and games.

“I think it’s a combination of things, just trying to help these kids figure out what is is they want to do in life and help them realize they can make brighter decisions for a brighter future, they can be anything they want to be," said Coleman.

Coleman and his team of mentors incorporate leadership and personal development activities into their after school program activities. SYML hopes to not just offer a place to go after school, but a place to grow.

“The more assets the kids have, the more successful they are going to be. We want to expose them to different careers, community service, and members of the community that can help them have a brighter future,” said Coleman.

SYML offers teens the opportunity to express their creativity through weekly projects.
SYML offers teens the opportunity to express their creativity through weekly projects.(Jack Bassett)

Since 2012, SYML has consistently offered character-building lessons and activities to students. The success of SYML has been so strong, nearby Fostoria is hoping to create smiles of their own.

On Fostoria’s State Farm campaign page they state," Young people in Fostoria, a city of 13,000, do not have any non-sports activities – no movie theater, no mall or shopping center. The community has a high percent of single-parent homes – more than 66%. With busy schedules, parents are not always able to provide children with the structure needed to complete homework, enhance social skills, and assist them with the daily issues that teens encounter."

Fostoria also outlined what they would do if they won the grant and created their own SYML program stating, “This project will develop an after-school drop-in center for teenagers grades 6-9. The Center will be open Mon--Thurs at the public school starting this fall. Certified staff from the school and the YMCA will lead and supervise teens in a safe space. Activities include arts & crafts, games, healthy snacks, tutoring, referral to community resources, physical activity, and community service. The State Farm grant would be used to encourage teens to have fun while increasing their physical activity.”

The State Farm Nationwide Assist Challenge concludes this Saturday October 3rd, with only the top 40 proposals becoming a reality. Members of Tiffin’s current SYML encourage the community to vote in order to create an impact with students who need it most.

“I’ve personally worked with the kids in Fostoria and they are amazing, they are just as creative, smart, intelligent just as the Tiffin kids here. I feel like they deserve to have people like us help them and their community," said Rachel Simpson.

“Obviously the county seat is here in Tiffin and sometimes Fostoria might feel like they get left out, but we want to provide the exact opportunities that are available here,” said Matt Coleman.

You can once again vote for Fostoria here at this link.

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