Youth Center to give out 100 backpacks at back-to-school BBQ
By Adriana Gutierrez The Press Democrat

A team of “education rockstars will be on hand to provide information and hand out free backpacks and school supplies to kids who attend VOICES Youth Center’s back-to-school barbecue Thursday.

Independent Living Program case manager LaDarius Spikes said the VOICES team hopes to hand out 100 free backpacks at the barbecue from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at the VOICES center, 714 Mendocino Ave., in central Santa Rosa.

Spikes and VOICES site coordinator Tisha Coates have worked to plan the barbecue.

“What we're really trying to do is spark conversation about school (and) to see what the youths' relationship with school is,” Spikes said.

He hopes to do this through the community organizations that will be at the event, including sponsors from the Sonoma County Office of Education, who have also provided $500 to the VOICES team’s food budget.

In addition to SCOE, other partners include the nonprofit organization 10,000 degrees, and the Santa Rosa Junior College Bear Cub Scholars.

An administrator from the college’s department of Financial Aid will also be on hand to help students with questions about financing college.

“We don't want to just give out resources or (have it be) another place where you can come to see a lot of pictures on the table and not know about the people behind the table,” Spikes said.

Instead, representatives from the partner organizations will be encouraged to sit, eat and interact with students.

“What we’ve been saying is, it's not what you know or who you know but who knows you,” Spikes said.

Food will include traditional barbecue staples, including hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta salads and other sides. There will be vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options as well.

Spikes and Coates are hoping the event will be a kick starter for the year, boosting involvement from youth in the community that has declined since the pandemic.

The center, which typically serves youth ages 12 to 26, has a lot of members on the older end of the scale, Coates said.

“The more youth on the younger end that we have coming in, the more likely that they’re going to have a place to be and a sense of community for a long time,” Coates said.

The center provides support to underserved youth. Services include teaching independent living skills, providing educational support and resources for health and wellness, helping youth with food insecurity and youth in foster care and group homes.

The barbecue is open to any Sonoma County youth who need a backpack, regardless of their background, Coates said.

“People are going to need it,” she said. “It’s that time of year.”

For more information, call (707) 579-4327.

Report For America corps member Adriana Gutierrez covers education and child welfare issues for The Press Democrat.