More than lunch with Midwest Youth Services

  • Photo/Kyla Hurt
He was blowing bubbles nonstop. Isiah White, 2, came with his parents, Christie Mehrhoff and Wesley White and sister, Nevaeh. Mom and Dad said it was the first time attending for the family and they heard about it because the housing team distributed flyers the day prior.
  • Photo/Kyla Hurt
Ten-year-old Roman Johnson stands with sisters Topaz Esengo (center, age 10) and Rayne Esengo (right, age 11). The sisters said they saw a flyer about the Midwest Youth Services event; Johnson said the same. Topaz Esengo mentioned about the afternoon, “It’s really fun because you get to meet other people and play.” The children held up puzzles and other takeaways from the “Round Table Summer Lunch Program.”
  • Photo/Kyla Hurt
Nevaeh White, 5, looks up briefly to smile before returning to her chalk artwork. She was creating a house with a lovely green roof and big windows. Her dad said she really enjoys art. The family had lunch, which was provided by Midwest Youth Services, and then the kids played with the different games that were available.

by Kyla Hurt

A great opportunity for the community is available Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. through the end of the summer at Vas Home Center, 612 N. West St. in Jacksonville. The initiative started by Midwest Youth Services, Inc. (MYS) called the “Round Table Summer Lunch Program” provides sack lunches and activities for free as part of their efforts which they call “serving, strengthening and restoring families.”

MYS Community Youth Services Coordinator Haley Hopkins explains, “Our agency is really trying to put a focus on street outreach, and getting out into the community. So many people know of our agency only as a crisis agency, but we provide so many other services to youth. With the idea of being more visible and trying to fulfill a need in the community, we have started [the initiative] where we are serving sack lunches and providing fun activities for youth at the Vas Home Center each Wednesday from 11:30 to 1:00. Last week, we had bubbles and chalk for the kids to play with, as well as items youth can take with them like board games and word searches … It is turning out to be a really fun and rewarding experience.”

Midwest Youth Services Executive Director Ann Hungerford started six years ago with the agency as a part-time crisis interventionist. In her second year as the executive director, she says, “I fell in love with it and never left.”

“Our services are really … they’re one-on-one, you know … they’re very personal, lots of involvement.”

The Round Table Lunch not only provides a healthy lunch for kids but also extends a variety of on-site activities for interaction along with offering various takeaways, games or swag – all at no cost to families in attendance. MYS started a donation drive for games and “every morning we’d come in and we’d have a huge tote, just full of donations … so, all of the games that we hand out every week are donated from community members,” says Hungerford.

The idea for the summer lunch program started after some brainstorming about continuing involvement in the community, she continues. “Since it was over the noon hour, we decided to do lunches. With Vas, there are a lot of things going on in Walnut Court … I think they’re getting a new playground … we wanted to come to a different side of town that’s more centralized. Family engagement continues to be one of the biggest barriers that you’re trying to combat, so you know, the games … that’s something they can take home and have a family activity around. We’re just really trying to promote that social well-being. Kids don’t have anything to do right now and it’s really hard, but we’ve been able to be creative.”

The attendance is growing. “Each week, it seems like more people are coming out.”

Members of the MYS staff are meeting new families. “MYS has always been known for … crisis calls. We’ve more than doubled in size, so just getting that prevention program going … [MYS] is a safe place to come and have a good time and have healthy relationships. It’s a way of giving back and getting to know your community so that if there is a need, they feel safe coming to us.”

Hungerford says they hope to do different projects and such after the Round Table Lunch program concludes to promote that constant presence going forward.

Midwest Youth Services is located at 2001 West Lafayette Ave. and may be reached at 217-245-6000. Find more information about them at In a crisis, call 1-800-KID-HELP.

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About the author

Kyla Hurt is a capable boondoggler trained in the arts; she’s also an accomplished event coordinator with experience from museum fundraising to art festivals. She enjoys puppies, sunshine, and good radishes – and wit. Wit is good, too.

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