October 10th, the Friends of YCS will host their fifth annual Walk In Edgewater Along Hudson River
By David Block
Canoeing, fishing, swimming, splashing the grown ups, receiving holiday and birthday presents – these are normal joys that most children experience. Unfortunately, for many children who enter Youth Counseling Services (YCS) for the first time, these things are anything but normal.
For them, normal means, being abused: sexually, physically, mentally and verbally. For some, normal means spending time in jail, just like Mom and Dad. Normal means selling drugs, just like Mom and Dad. Normal means, stealing, just like Mom and Dad. Normal means being neglected and abandoned, year after year, time after time.
According to the 25 plus year YCS staffer, Owen Broomes, Assistant Vice President of YCS’s program, Situational Response (SRT) and to the 12-year YCS staffer, Andrew Beckford, Director of SRT’s North Region, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) is a primary referral source that sends children to be in YCS’s care. This results from the parents losing their rights to parent their children. In other cases, the children become too difficult for their parents to handle.
YCS is a private, non-profit, provider of behavioral health, education and social services for New Jersey children, from birth to age 25. It heavily relies on private funding to achieve its goals, one being to send about 150 kids to camp for two weeks during the summer.
The History of YCS
YCS’s beginnings stemmed from there being a need to take care of the widows and children of fallen American soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.
In New Jersey, the severity of this problem became so out of hand, that in 1918, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark established “The Church Mission of Help” to aid the abandoned widows and children.
Fourteen years later, the program shifted its objective to assist troubled children. In 1939, “The Church Mission of Help” changed its name to Youth Counseling Services (YCS).
From that time forward, YCS developed a number of programs, which now total 90. The services that some of these programs provide include an infant foster home program, a therapeutic residence for children ages 5-12, and a learning center for Autistic children.
Through love and kindness, all the YCS programs share a goal of building a happy and healthy life for the children in their care.
Love and Kindness
Broomes and Beckford emphasized that kindness and love frequently turns the kids’ lives around.
Broomes said: “When you treat any kid with kindness, it will eventually break them to the point where they’re going to respect you, regardless of the situation. When you understand, this kid is on medication, he (or she) has serious issues, and you deal with it from a compassionate point of view, you get positive results.”
Broomes and Beckford said proudly that YCS never turned away a child.
“We believe there’s no kid that we can’t reach,” said Broomes. “We have an upbeat positive attitude toward all our children…We would have any type of staff or support that would deal with any behavior.”
One example of the love and kindness that Broomes, Beckford and other YCS staff show is sometimes reminding the children that if they don’t turn their lives around, they could face a terrible alternative.
“One time I saw a kid come in wearing a jump suit and shackles that were bigger than him,” said Broomes. “We sometimes have to tell the kids, ‘the judge sent you here, and if you can’t get rehabilitated here, you’ll go some place else for a long time (prison). That’s our equalizer. Once they hear that, they cooperate.”
Beckford added: “Some of the kids who we worked with in the past who end up getting incarcerated, they call us from prison; they say, ‘the things you told us, we should have listened. The action that we took, put us in this situation. When we get out, we’ll try to do differently.'”
Abandoned at Christmas Time
Broomes remembered how a nine-year-old girl came to YCS a few days before Christmas: “The child had a very, very difficult time. … She’d constantly run to the door to go back to leave. She was told that she was just going to take a visit here, she didn’t expect to stay. That girl was giving everyone hell, so I called her over and asked: ‘Tell me, what can I do for you?’
She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you have a coat? Where’s your coat?’
‘I have no coat.’
‘Do you really want a coat?’ I asked her.
She said, ‘Oh yeah. I want a coat.’
We came to the office and I picked out three new coats for her. She never saw three new coats in her life. It totally changed her behavior. I then gave her a couple of toys to play with. Things like that come up on a day to day basis.”
Both Parents Incarcerated
Beckford remembered one of the YCS boys whose parents were incarcerated: “His mother was locked up in jail. His father was locked up in jail. He was arrested selling drugs, fighting, doing everything that he’s not supposed to be doing. He said: ‘This is what I know. I don’t have a future. This is what it is.'”
Beckford said that the YCS staff taught the boy that there were alternatives to following in his parents’ footsteps, such as going to college and playing sports.
“It turned out that he was a very good athlete,” said Beckford. “He was a very good writer. You wouldn’t have expected that from him because of where he’s coming from. After he transitioned out of YCS, he turned his life around.”
From YCS Client to YCS Staffer
Broomes said that some of the kids who were in YCS ended up working there when they became adults. One example Broomes gave was when a boy first entered the YCS program. “He was shy, withdrawn and depressed.” Unlike some of the other YCS kids, this boy did not have psychological problems. “He was just looking for a mom, looking for a father.” Broomes remembered that at first the boy clung to him. Moreover, he was afraid to speak out-loud. Instead, he’d whisper to Broomes.
“One day, I was walking with him and a few of the other kids to the store and I heard them laughing. They asked him, ”why are you holding his hand like he’s your father?’ So I said to all of them, ‘I’m your father and your mother. From 3PM to 11PM, every time I’m here, I’m your father, I’m your mother.'”
Eventually, the boy felt comfortable enough to interact with the other staff and YCS kids. Broomes said that the YCS staff hired him because he had a lot of knowledge from being in the program and he got his life together.
One of Broomes’s and Beckford’s favorite times of year is summer when nearly 150 YCS kids go to camp in the mountains for two weeks.
“It’s when these kids get to be kids,” said Broomes. “When I hear them splashing in the water and having a great time, that’s music to my ears.”
Beckford shared how a 13-year-old YCS boy, who used a wheelchair, truly loved camp.
“For the first time in his life,” said Beckford, “he got to ride in the canoe, go swimming, he never experienced that before. He was the happiest kid in camp. He didn’t want to leave. The saddest day for him was the last day of camp.” He added that the last day of camp was the saddest day for all the kids and the staff. Broomes and Beckford said that camp was the one time of year when they’d see sincere joy on the kids’ faces. However, sending the kids to camp for two weeks costs YCS nearly $200,000.00 per year. Expenses include moving the entire YCS agency to camp and paying to use property and facilities, while covering the expenses of of nearly 150 children.
The Friends of YCS
Nearly five years ago, Fort Lee, NJ resident Guy Prandstatter, formed The Friends of YCS.
The Friends of YCS raised nearly $500,000 of their $2 million dollar goal to create a camp that YCS can use year round to provide recreational, educational and social opportunities for the children in YCS’s care.
“I thought, if they had their own camp, they wouldn’t have to spend all that money every year just to send kids for two weeks,” said Prandstatter. “They could have it available all year round. We’re bringing something special to these children. It’s a very special project that will impact the lives of thousands of children, and thousands more in the years to come, so the effect will be tremendous.”
Prandstatter’s passion for the project stems from painful childhood memories: “I grew up with the feeling like I was not worthy of love because the people who were supposed to love and care for me were the ones who hurt and abandoned me. As a man, that manifested into character flaws and self-loathing to the point of self-destruction. I was blessed to be saved from a life of addiction and suffering. As a result, I just want to give the possibility of a second chance at life that I was given back and these kids are among the most needy, certainly the most like myself.”
This October 10th, the Friends of YCS will host their fifth annual Walk for YCS from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Walkers will gather outside of Outback Steak House in Edgewater to register and then walk along a 1.5 mile scenic path beside the Hudson River. Cosponsoring the Walk for YCS is Men’s Division International, an organization committed to helping men achieve their goals.
The money raised will be used for establishing the year-round camp.
For information about registering for the walk or for donating or becoming a Friend of YCS, log onto
For more information about YCS: http://www.ycs.org/
A Few YCS Services:
YCS established the Holley Child Care in Hackensack to serve as a therapeutic residence for children ages 5-12
- In Montclair, YCS created the Sawtelle Learning Center for Autistic children
- YCS’s Intensive In-Community Service Program in Fairfield, offers individual, group and family counseling and other mental health related services to children and families in their home
- Working in Partnership with the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities (Trenton)
- Two YCS therapeutic nurseries open in Secaucus and East Orange to address the emotional, psychological, cognitive and social challenges of young children ages 3-5 and their families