Seventeen year old Jessi from Germantown will never forget that life-changing moment. Four years ago, before entering ninth grade, the Germantown High School Senior, pledged to be drug- and alcohol -free in order to participate in the United Way-funded Youth Futures Program through the nonprofit agency Elevate.

 “I remember after pledging feeling very important,” said Jessi.  “I had looked up to a lot kids in high school when I was younger, and suddenly it was my chance to be one of them. My opportunity to be that good example for younger students.”

Not only did Jessi’s pledge give her a sense of pride, it also introduced her to a variety of volunteer activities that would allow her to have fun, avoid drugs and alcohol, and make a positive difference in her community.

“Volunteering is a great way for young adults to be good role models in the community and to have a lot of fun doing it,” she said.

The Youth Futures program is a community coalition designed to encourage Germantown School District students volunteer and make positive choices so they avoid drugs and alcohol.

Today, Jessi is student board president for Youth Futures, and she helps recruit new members and organize fun activities like the annual ‘Lock In’ at Kennedy Middle School each spring.

“When I meet a student, I really try to emphasize how much fun Youth Futures is and how volunteering related activities really help with your college applications,” said Jessi.

“When Youth Futures first started eight years ago, its sole purpose was to offer kids fun activities that don’t involve alcohol or drugs,” said Mary Simon, Executive Director of Elevate. 

Today, this purpose becomes more meaningful as opioids and heroin abuse continues to plague youth in Washington County. “Drug addiction is a huge concern in this community,” said Simon. “We are seeing kids come through our doors on a daily basis with this addiction. It’s affecting residents in our community and ultimately killing our young people every day.”

Simon and her colleagues at Elevate are thankful United Way’s support is more than just financial.

“Drug and alcohol abuse is a rapidly growing concern in our northern counties and United Way feels a sense of urgency to help address this issue,” said Bailey Murph, Health Portfolio Manager at United Way. “Our partnership with Elevate has been critical in providing youth not only a program to prevent this from continuing but a platform for students like Jessi to develop strong leadership skills and become civically engaged adults.”

"Kids see teenagers as being cool, they want to be able to have independence and it’s important that they see other kids doing positive activities like volunteering. Thanks to United Way, more kids are staying out of trouble,” said Jessi.

In 2014-15 87% of participants in United Way youth development programs stated that they knew how to have fun without using alcohol or drugs and they knew how to spend time with friends who did not use alcohol or drugs.

As for Jessi, her future looks bright thanks to United Way.  This fall she will enroll in University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a full scholarship as well as support from her friends and teachers at Youth Futures.

“I definitely want to be in a career that that will allow me to help others and give them guidance,” said Jessi.

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© 2020 United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County is a 501(C)(3) Nonprofit registered in the US under EIN: 39-0806190.