Ten years ago, social worker Mark Lazzara chose to make the switch from counseling youth to providing them the chance to do community service, because there were no efforts in the area that offered children that opportunity. His decision has had a significant impact on the youth of Erie County and Western New York.
Today, the West Seneca Youth Bureau, with Mark Lazzara as its Executive Director, is a leading organization in bringing service learning to Western New York. The West Seneca Youth Bureau has initiated programs such as the Y.E.S. (Youth Engaged in Service) program, an after-school and weekend community service program for young people 12-18 years of age. The youth participate in activities such as playing Bingo with nursing home residents, dancing with disabled adults at Christmas parties, and serving food to the homeless at the City Mission. More than 300 young people are presently enrolled in this program, which provides opportunities for leadership through service. Instead of becoming burdens on society, these youth are giving gifts of self back to the community.
During the 2000-2001 school year, the YES program will pilot a new, one of a kind program in Western New York – an advanced placement service course. Interested students will have the opportunity to receive college credit for a course from Erie Community College in which they will participate in regular classroom learning as well as community service projects. The hours volunteering for YES activities will count toward the hours they need for their college credit. This course will provide a unique opportunity for students interested in the field of human services.
In addition to YES, the West Seneca Youth Bureau facilitates more than 400 full and part-time AmerCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA members who serve in various capacities, making it the largest program of its kind in Western New York. Since 1993, the organization has been the proud sponsor of five AmeriCorps programs: Sharing the Words, America Reads, the Governor’s Violence Prevention Corps, the Service Action Corps, VISTA, and the WS Urban Corps. The West Seneca Youth Bureau has offered one million dollars in education awards, which enable AmeriCorps members to pursue higher education.
The West Seneca Youth Bureau is also embarking on a new project in cooperation with a young teacher and her students, the Freedom Writers. The Freedom Writers overcame poverty, violence, drugs, and gangs to become excellent students and individuals. Staff members of the Youth Bureau, AmeriCorps members, and the Freedom Writers are developing a violence prevention and tolerance program to be piloted in Western New York. With the wave of school violence and intolerance, this program will be instrumental in reversing the trend and helping children learn through literature to become successful, productive citizens.
The West Seneca Youth Bureau has proven to be an instrumental resource in improving the lives of thousands of people in Western New York. The many volunteers of the Youth Bureau have given greater educational opportunities to thousands of children, warm meals to thousands of elderly people, and clean gardens and parks to their communities.