PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 7, 2022) — Members of the Presidio of Monterey’s Youth Sponsorship Program are trained, ready and waiting to welcome youths who are new to the Porter Youth Center.
Elaine Vrolyks, the Presidio’s school liaison officer, met with members of the center’s Leadership Club at a Sept. 1 meeting to take their photos for the new school year and help as they made welcome bags for newcomers. Most members of the club are also youth sponsors, and the program not only improves the well-being of newcomers, but also develops the leadership skills of the sponsors.
“When a new family comes to the youth center, they’ll tap one of those youth sponsors and give the family and the kids tours around the facility and talk about the center and the things they enjoy doing there,” Vrolyks said.
About 15 youths are trained youth sponsors at the facility, and they help newcomers learn about the center, introduce them to others and involve them in activities. For military children who move regularly, the program helps make transitions easier.
Sofya Kozlova, 9, said she began volunteering as a youth sponsor last year, and estimates she has helped nearly 50 newcomers by providing them tours of the facility, giving them welcome bags and making it easier for them to make friends and participate in activities.
“I used to be shy, but now that I’m a youth sponsor, I can speak up a little louder,” Sofya said.
Likewise, Nicholas Morgan, 14, said he began volunteering as a youth sponsor about a year ago and has sponsored dozens of youths.
“I like the feeling that I have impacted some of them, like when I do something that makes them laugh or smile,” Nicholas said. “Just seeing the look on their face, it’s just really rewarding to me. Knowing that I have done something to make them happy, that’s probably what I like most about it.”
Vrolyks said that if a sponsor also goes to the same school as the new youth, the sponsor can help guide the youth at school as well. As school liaison officer, Vrolyks acts as the conduit between the installation and the school community, local public-school districts, private schools and home school families.
In addition to the Porter Youth Center program, some local schools also have similar programs, and Vrolyks said she can connect parents with those programs as well.
While not many families request a youth sponsor, Vrolyks said she makes sure to mention it to families when they contact her, and they can ask personnel at the youth center about getting a sponsor for their children.
Vrolyks can also help create connections before families arrive.
“There’s been times when kids—with supervision of the leaders of course—will email kids before they come here, just to communicate with them,” Vrolyks said. “Basically, they’re there to be a friend to the new kid.”
Vrolyks said that since some parts of the year are busier with newcomers than others, the program also connects youth sponsors with other volunteer activities when there are not many newcomers. Recently they volunteered at the Summer Expo 2022, a back-to-school event in July, by making welcome signs and assisting at craft tables for children.
Youths who volunteer with the program said they initially got involved because they wanted to help others, and they always welcome new youth sponsors.
“I decided to become a youth sponsor because I wanted to feel like I was making a difference,” Nicholas said.
Sofya, meanwhile, said she enjoys making new friends and wants newcomers to feel they have a friend when they come to the center. Showing them around the facility helps her build a rapport so they have an experience in common the next time they see each other.
“I like helping people a lot and I like making new friends,” Sofya said.
For more information, contact Vrolyks at (831) 242-6904.