Cheryl Bayes joins Youth in Need

By Daniel Bodden

Cheryl Bayes walks into the Youth in Need St. Charles location just past 8:15 a.m. As she walks through the door, the greetings begin. ‘Hi Miss Cheryl’ echoes through the room as more kids see who’s just entered and join in. Some come running over. Some of the young boys want high fives. Some of the kids give hugs.

“I get wonderful hugs every morning from all the kids or the vast majority of them,” Cheryl said. “I get little arms wrapped around my knees pretty much. It’s a wonderful way to start the day. It’s very, very sweet.” Youth In Need (YIN) started in 1974 and now serves underprivileged youth throughout the greater St. Louis area at 35 different sites. Cheryl is just one of more than 1000 volunteers that work with YIN staff every year. Cheryl volunteers in the Head Start, Early Head Start and infant programs which are for children up to five years old.

“The goal of Head Start is to give families the healthiest start possible in life,” YIN Community Relations Manager Beth Butcher said. “Ultimately, we hope that we are helping youth and their families move toward a healthier future.”

YIN’s first client was a teenager who left her home after multiple beatings. She was picked up on the streets and taken to a local jail with adult criminals. Community volunteers who were troubled by this decided to open the first YIN shelter. Although YIN now has more than 300 staff members, it still relies on volunteers like the ones who started it to help out.

“The neat thing about volunteering is absolutely anyone can do it,” Beth said. “You don’t have to have money to do it; you just have to have the heart. Even just a teenager who wants to help out with some of the kids after school or on the weekends could easily become a hero to the kids they help.”

Cheryl got started a little over a year ago with Youth In Need. She found it online and got in touch with Beth who thought the teachers in the Head Start program would be grateful for some extra help. She now volunteers four days a week for four to five hours a day.

“She was just really a genuine person who wanted to get involved,” Beth said. “She had time to give and was open and willing to do whatever was needed the most, so she started helping with Head Start. Now she has become one of their favorite, most valued volunteers.”

What Cheryl loves most about her day is when kids come up to her needing some affection. I love you, Miss Cheryl. Sit with me, Miss Cheryl. Read with me, Miss Cheryl. One moment in particular has stuck with her.

“I made a special book for the infants with pictures of  their families in it and I laminated it so they could touch it,” Cheryl said. “I remember standing in the room and watching the kids get so excited about seeing their family’s faces. Even at the age of two, they got so excited about recognizing mommy and daddy.”

After lunch, Cheryl works on getting the kids to rest. Some don’t want to, but eventually everyone settles down. It’s now the end of the day for Cheryl; she slips out the door quietly to head back home. Another day of giving time, energy, effort and love to the kids and teachers is finished.

“Cheryl has a big heart,” Head Start teacher Janet Pursifull said. “She was meant on this earth to help others. She gives 110 percent. We’re so glad she found us.”

This hero’s work is done for now, but don’t worry, she’ll be back to Youth In Need along with all the other returning and new volunteers again tomorrow to keep saving the day.

“If we didn’t have volunteers, it would put our staff under a lot of pressure,” Beth said. “The more people that rally around youth in trouble, the better chance they have at a healthy future. It teaches youth the concept of stepping in to help even when you don’t have to. It would be completely different without the volunteers.”