Executive Director Judy Duncan-Olds shares how Youth Connections helps local youth; nonprofit to participate in upcoming Dancing with the Johnson County Stars
With a nearly 40-year career working in the nonprofit realm, Judy Duncan-Olds said she never works for an organization unless she believes in the mission. She will have served as executive director for Youth Connections for two years this November and although this position has been different from the other nonprofits she’s led, she found a passion in helping the youth in and around Johnson County.
“It’s our agency’s dream and desire to be that premier agency where a judge, caseworker or DCS has a child that needs a service and the first agency they think of is Youth Connections,” said Duncan-Olds, a Greenwood resident.
Duncan-Olds’ nonprofit background includes beginning as a secretary at United Way of Central Indiana, 13 years as president and CEO of the Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation, executive director of the Franklin Township Education Foundation and associate executive director of Handicapable Hands, now a division of Easter Seals. In the two years she’s been with Youth Connections, the agency has gone through a lot of restructuring.
“We’ve made tremendous strides in the last two years,” she said. “We now have a staff of six, three part time. We had two. We have a new board. We added two new programs since I’ve been here: the speakers bureau and human trafficking education.”
Youth Connections has seven programs and services all aimed to better the lives of youth in Johnson County: Project Safe Place/Host Homes, Jumpstart mentoring, children’s visitation center, custody evaluations, human trafficking awareness, speakers bureau and Families in Transition (FIT).
The nonprofit is partially funded by Indiana Youth Services Association, United Way, Drug Free Johnson County, Commissioners of Johnson County and grants. It hosts fundraisers throughout the year such as a Breakfast of Champions in the spring and an auction in November.
This is the final year that Youth Connections can participate in Dancing with the Johnson County Stars, coming on Sept. 22 and 23. Friday, Sept. 22, is for all ages, costing $10 per person, $5 for ages 18 and under or $25 per family up to 6. Saturday, Sept. 23 is an adult, 21 and older-only event, costing $30 per person which includes refreshments. This event brings several local nonprofits together with a goal to help them raise new funds. Whichever organization raises the most, wins. Each dancer is asked to raise $5,000 for the organization. Youth Connections’ dancer is Laura Kennedy, who is a former reporter for WISH-TV in Indianapolis.
“The dancers work very hard,” Duncan-Olds said. “They go to Five Star Dance Studio in Greenwood and take lessons. They really commit to do tis. It’s a fun evening. We get the message out about our agency to the community and folks that perhaps don’t know who you are.”
As Duncan-Olds looks to continue to grow revenue for Youth Connections, she also hopes to continue adding to the programming.
“There are so many things you don’t think about,” she said. “Kids have role models. Our role models right now are not giving that positive message. So who do they have to look up to, if there’s not a good parent or family support system? It’s so important that agencies like these are available. We’ve been very fortunate. We were able to get some new grants. We work as a team. I have the best staff ever. I’m so happy to be working with Youth Connections.”
Dancing with the Johnson County Stars
When: (All ages) Sept. 22, 7 p.m. and (Adults 21+ only) Sept. 23, 7 – 9 p.m.
Where: The Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin.
Learn more about some of Youth Connections’ programs
Safe Place: Youth Connections was recently asked to expand the Safe Place program into Brown County. Safe Place is a national youth outreach program with locations such as businesses, schools, libraries, fire stations, YMCAs and more that display a yellow and black ‘Safe Place’ sign. Youth Connections’ program has a 24-hour cell phone, (317) 727-2571, for children to call when they need help. Currently Johnson County and Morgan Counties have 150 Safe Place sites and Youth Connections is looking to add 25 to 50 more in Brown County.
Host Homes: Youth ages 7 to 18 who are in need of an emergency shelter can stay at a host home for up to 21 days until they can be reunited with family or moved to a permanent location. “We’re always in need of host home families,” said Judy Duncan-Olds.
Human Trafficking Awareness: Youth Connections educates the community about the dangers and warning signs of human trafficking and how to identify possible victims. “ People don’t think it’s an issue and it is,” Duncan-Olds said. “A lot of kids are not monitored. These traffickers will spend a lot of time grooming those kids. They get involved and don’t know how to get out or who to tell. It’s not always the girls. It’s not only sex trafficking, it’s labor trafficking. There are leading questions you can ask these kids. We speak to any groups we can. We ask kids to monitor their kids on social media. We do a workshop in the high school on healthy relationships.”
Jumpstart Group Mentoring: Designed for elementary, intermediate and middle school youth in Johnson and Morgan Counties, Jumpstart leaders build relationships with students while mentoring in STEM, robotics, teach about bullying and how to cope. To go along with this, Youth Connections began hosting summer camp programs.
Children’s Visitation Center: This program provides a safe and neutral location for on-site, monitored visits for parents and their children.
Families in Transition: Couples getting a divorce in Johnson County are required to take this program, teaching parents how to co-parent during the divorce. Children are also required to attend, giving them a chance to talk about how they feel about the divorce.