VAN WERT - Being the director of Buckeye Y Youth is an often stressful and time-consuming job, but Mary Salupo wouldn't trade it for anything.
Buckeye Y Youth is a United Way-funded, non-profit organization for children ages five through 18 that provides educational activities for area youth. The group was officially founded in 1993, but it evolved from another organization.
"We used to be Campfire Boys and Girls," said Salupo. "They were going to pull their charter from Van Wert County try to consolidate (groups) in Findlay. They could not come to an agreement in negotiations, so the board here from Campfire Boys and Girls decided to start their own youth organization and run it basically the same as Campfire Boys and Girls."
Salupo was working for Campfire Boys and Girls as an office assistant and continued that job when Buckeye Y Youth was created in 1993. In 1995, she was named the director.
The organization offers the members several fun activities throughout the year. Club meetings are held twice a month for all of the different age groups. Special events include everything from field trips to summer camp to sleep overs.
"We've done a lot of special events - horseback riding at Marmon Valley, each year we hit a Ft. Wayne Komets hockey game, and the last couple of years we've went to Powwows. They're a Native American ceremonial event where the Native American tribes from different places gather together and they dress in their regalia and perform a lot of music and dancing. It's just really pretty neat. They have one at Ft. Ancient, which is between Dayton and Cincinnati, and then last year we went to Mohican, which is on the other side of Mansfield. So those are kind of fun and exciting things that we do," explained Salupo.
Salupo shared that the group tries to make every event educational. The group's "Fun Day"s typically have a theme, and then experts in a related field come in to teach the children.
Salupo explained, "This year we did a Space Fun Day. We had someone come in from the Neil Armstrong Museum. She was a blast, the kids loved her. They were shooting off rockets and made a car that operates on a balloon. That was a lot of fun."
A Fun Day will take place on a school holiday at another local organization such as Camp Clay, the YMCA or the YWCA. Having the event on a school holiday allows for more kids, not just those in Buckeye Y Youth, to be a part of the fun.
"We've been doing Fun Days on most school holidays since way before it was Buckeye Y. And it's not so much a fundraiser for us as we don't make huge amounts of money off of it; It's more of a service to the parents and grandparents. I'm noticing there are a lot of grandparents responsible for the children on the no-school holidays who are really happy to find something for the kids to do," said Salupo. "Fun Days are a lot of fun, and we have a good time with it."
Another educational opportunity Buckeye Y Youth offers is the Safe and Secure program. "Our Safe and Secure program teaches safety to area first graders at all of the area schools at no charge to the schools. Right now I have been blessed and so fortunate to have a retired school teacher teaching it, Mrs. Deb Kleinhenz. She just does a wonderful job; she was a first grade teacher, so she's great with it," explained Salupo. "It's a very important program. We get a lot of numbers from that as far as people we reach. All of the teachers who have the program say it's important to remind the kids more than once and by somebody else."
Fun and educational events are not all Buckeye Y Youth has to offer. The organization also focuses on volunteerism.Salupo shared that some of the volunteer work the members do includes caroling at the local nursing homes during Christmas and making tray favors for patients that are in Van Wert Hospital during the holidays. The group just finished making valentines for veterans.
"Last week, we did Valentines for Veterans where the group of kids gathered together and made valentines for disabled veterans at the VA Hospital in Ft. Wayne. We did that here at the V.F.W.," said Salupo.
Salupo noted that without the adult volunteers of the organization, she would not be able to keep Buckeye Y Youth in operation. From running the donut stand at the Peony and Apple Festivals and the Van Wert County Fair to registering kids on Fun Day, Salupo is grateful for the help she receives.
She is also thankful for the help the United Way provides. "Without United Way, we probably wouldn't be here. We do get occasional funding from other places like the Van Wert County Foundation and private donations, but it's always a struggle. We have to keep a pretty tight budget to keep things going, but it's worth it in the long run."
Salupo feels that the rewards to her job are endless. "What's really special is when we go Christmas caroling, to see the older people and how they react to the kids in the nursing home. It's just so moving. They're just happy to see the kids. We made cards also this year to hand out and just to see the interaction is really neat," she shared.
She also enjoys being able to give back to a community that gave so much to her. "One of the reasons I do what I do is because when I was young, there were a lot of adults in my life that did things for me and my family, and I just like to be able to do the same thing for these kids. I have a lot of good memories from my youth because of people that cared enough to volunteer. I noticed that with most of the kids that go through Buckeye Y, once they are adults, they seem to want to give back to the community also, so it's sort of a continuing process that teaching volunteerism makes a volunteer, and we can all use more volunteers!" she exclaimed.
Above all, Salupo's favorite part of her job is watching the kids grow up. She related the story of a member who dedicated everything to the program. "I had this one kid that is really good with computers, just really smart... He always had so much enthusiasm. He decided that he wanted to create a float for the Peony Festival. Those things take time to put together! But he and his friends decorated it and got an adult to pull the float in the parade. And we won four trophies from it! The fact that this kid made this float while he had adults in his life telling him he shouldn't do it... It's just seeing the potential in somebody and encouraging them a little bit and then they do something like that. It's amazing. I'm just happy to help in some way... That's what Buckeye Y tries to do is reach those that need something in their lives, and I think we do pretty good at it."
Flyers for Buckeye Y Youth are sent out through the schools at the beginning of the year, but for those interested in joining at another time, Salupo says to attend an event or call the office at (419) 238 - 3546.