By Mr. Mark Iacampo ( Hohenfels )August 30, 2012
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Moving to a new duty station can be stressful for the entire family, but perhaps even more so for children who have to meet new friends and find their place in a new school. To help ease that transition, the Army instituted the Army Youth Sponsorship Program (AYSP) which seeks to pair incoming youth with existing students in the community.
Comprised of two elements, the AYSP includes the Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS) Youth Sponsorship Club and the Student to Student (S2S) School Transition Support Program. Aimed at seventh-12th graders, the AYSP helps students adjust faster to their new location through introduction, club involvement, and community awareness.
"S2S is mainly during the school year, while the CYSS Youth Sponsorship Club is really just an earlier way to get the new youth identified, get them familiar with things on the installation and the programs that are happening in the summer," said Stacy Groth, Hohenfels CYSS coordinator. "The sooner they get connected with their own peers, the better the experience will be for them."
"The ideal situation would be before a child even gets here, you link them up with somebody to where they start emailing back and forth," said Sharron McKinney, Hohenfels school liaison officer.
Youth sponsors are recruited through CYSS, and undergo training to understand how to be an effective sponsor. They are coached on effective communication skills and ways to help new youth adapt and cope with the stress of change and moving.
"I try to get kids who are more active in the community because they know many different things about what's going on," said Rena Mesch, CYSS program assistant. "I try to get kids who are versatile, some that are into sports, some that are academic or into music. That way when new kids come in, we can link them up with someone they have something in common with."
Sponsors and newcomers each fill out a questionnaire with age, grade, gender and a list of interests, such as various sports, clubs, musical preferences and various hobbies.
"We try to match kids up so they have some similar likes and interests, but those kids who are youth sponsors know the main thing is to make (newcomers) feel welcome," said McKinney.
"All our sponsors understand how hard it is to move," McKinney added. "They've all been the new kid once."
That feeling is exactly what led 10th grader Shelby Atkinson to volunteer as a youth sponsor.
"I became a youth sponsor because when I first moved here I didn't receive a sponsor and I really wanted one," Atkinson said. "Coming to Hohenfels, it's a new place and a new environment, so meeting new people right off the bat is really good and it helps to start school off right."
HMHS Senior Tony Williams said he'd previously been involved in the S2S program, and he really enjoys helping new students become familiar with the community.
"Transferring from one community to another is difficult for a family," Williams said. "New youth are often worried about being "the new kid." Being a youth sponsor makes me happy because I know that I can make the transition for other youth much easier."
Williams said he began emailing with the youth he sponsored while the student was still in the States, explaining a bit about Hohenfels and what it has to offer.
"A simple e-mail such as this can positively change an individual's attitude towards their new destination. With a simple "Send", a new person from the states already has a new friend in Germany," said Williams.
McKinney said that many incoming youth don't know about the program until they arrive in Hohenfels. To help connect newcomers with sponsors, the CYSS hosted a Youth Sponsorship "Newcomers" party, Aug 22, where youth got to know each other over pizza, sodas and games.
They also organized a field trip to Regensburg, Aug. 25 where new youth were introduced to Germany's train system, enjoyed sightseeing in the Aldstadt, learned some survival German for ordering in restaurants and toured the mall.
Trevor Tufts, who arrived in Hohenfels in early August from El Paso, said being paired with a youth sponsor made his move a lot more fun.
"I've already met so many new friends," he said. "This program has been really great. I've already decided to be a youth sponsor for someone else next year."
It is not only the newcomers who gain from the program.
"I gain leadership skills from this program," said Williams. "The Teen Center is looking for individuals who can positively represent the community, so youth sponsors have to step out of their way to assist the new youth. I love that I am there to help a new individual."
"However, the ultimate prize is friendship," Williams added. "Nothing beats making a new friend!"