By Lisa Howard
WHEN MOST PEOPLE THINK OF SCHOOLS, THEY THINK OF TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS. But many other professionals and programs focus on helping every student be successful. One of those professionals is Brittany Kalso, a caseworker for Oakland County’s Berkley/ Huntington Woods Youth Assistance program. It’s a tri-sponsorship program supported by the Oakland County Circuit Court Family Division, the City of Berkley, and the Berkley School District, and it supports youth in a variety of ways.
“I love being here, because we have an initial opportunity to prevent what may become detrimental to the student’s success,” says Kalso. “All of the school administrators and the OC Circuit Court and the municipality really, really support our program. At the end of the day, we’re trying to make sure that every student has an equal opportunity to be successful.”
In her role, Kalso provides short-term counseling and casework services to children or families who are referred to her by the school district (i.e., a principal, teacher, or school social worker) for various reasons. Maybe a student is struggling with anxiety or impulsivity, or maybe they’re dealing with a situation at home, like a divorce or mom having a new work schedule and the family needing to readjust.
OCCASIONALLY, KALSO SEES STUDENTS as part of the Circuit Court’s diversion program, which was created to help students potentially avoid formal court charges for things like shoplifting— police can refer students to Kalso, and she can work with them within the framework of the Youth Assistance program, providing counseling and assigning the student to community service or another form of restitution.
Along with caseworker services, the Youth Assistance program supports students in a variety of ways: They do a school supply drive for families in need, they grant scholarships that send kids to summer camp, and they have skill- building scholarships for students who want to take music lessons or participate in team sports. They also have a mentoring program where they match supportive adults who have gone through a screening process with the County with students who may need more support or who may need a positive role model in their life. The program’s board of volunteers also offers parent education programs on various topics.
One of their most well-attended events was when they showed the movie Screenagers, which helps parents be more aware of what’s going on online and on social media. Another recent program dealt with vaping and was offered in tandem with the Tri- Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Berkley that works to prevent substance abuse and related risky behavior.
ONE OF KALSO’S FAVORITE ASPECTS of the Youth Assistance program is their youth recognition ceremony, where they recognize students in the District for their positive efforts and their contributions to their schools and/or the community. “It’s an amazing event!” Kalso says. “A lot of times these students aren’t your typical student athletes or musicians, but they’re nonetheless amazing students who have made very positive impacts on their community, and it’s great to show them our appreciation for what they do.”
Another highlight of the year is the Taste of Berkley. Not only is it the Youth Assistance program’s main fundraising event, it’s popular throughout the community — attendees can sample menu offerings from a variety of Berkley restaurants and also make bids in a silent auction. That kind of community involvement is something Kalso gets to see on a daily basis. The District is very supportive of students’ success, she says, and that makes her job feel valuable as well as satisfying. “You can see the high level of community support when you work with the families,” she says. “I see them when they’re at a vulnerable point, yes, but together, we’re able to steer them towards success.”