Neighbor2Neighbor: Advocacy center serves Upvalley youth

Sometimes all the gears line up. Pieces and parts come together and work just as they should. You have yourself a proverbial well-oiled machine. But that’s not always the case. Maybe an ace mechanic must be brought in for some fine-tuning to help get things going. Perhaps a gear requires retooling, or just a bit of WD-40 may do the trick. Then the way is clear.

Lives are like that, too. There are times when what’s needed to help get a life on track or keep a life on track involves the presence of someone or a team of someones to observe closely, get down below the surface, and finesse the situation with a toolkit that includes compassion, intuition, practical skill-building, mentorship, and programs that extend and support family and community.

The Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center (NVYAC) works with Upvalley young people by providing support from many angles and using many strategies. Says Executive Director Tom Amato, “We champion our youth by walking beside them and strive to see each young person beyond typical evaluation criteria.”

When he speaks of the importance of recognizing and honoring not only what can be observed or measured in one’s life, but the inner life of each NVYAC participant, Amato quotes Helen Keller: “‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched, but are felt in the heart.’”

What is your purpose or mission?

Tom Amato, executive director: “The Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center (NVYAC) develops

innovative strategies to embrace and empower youth. This is done through exciting programs, clear communication, nurturing, and formal mentorships. All combine to create a formidable force that promotes authentic relationships as we identify and meet individuals’ deeper needs.

“Once we focus on the emotional and mental health of young people, we are able to help them develop practical skills for success. And through service in the community, they can directly see those skills put into action.”

In brief, what’s the history of your organization?

“NVYAC opened in May 2004 as an Angwin after-school center. Soon after, it expanded to support youth and families in St. Helena and Deer Park, dedicated not just to providing supervision and safe activities, but also mentoring, relationship development, the improvement of mental and emotional well-being, and real-life skills.

“Over the years, our mission and programs have expanded throughout the valley. We collaborate on site with many local schools and organizations.”

Who are the people you serve?

“As a youth advocacy and support resource, NVYAC networks with support groups and higher-education organizations. We provide youth, grades 5-16, and their families with access to counseling, mentoring, consulting, intervention, programming, activities and community connections.

“Through time together, outreach programs and crisis intervention, we serve, support, and at times act as a ‘critical care center’ for youth, with specific focus on Howell Mountain and St. Helena. In addition, we provide training, mentorship and internships to students in the education and behavioral science departments of Pacific Union College.”

Is there an anecdote that illustrates the work you do?

“‘Food of Love’ is a unique collaborative effort with the St. Helena Hospital Martin O’Neil Cancer Center, A and A Kitchen in St. Helena, and the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center. Kids literally step up to the plate, serving nutritious, delicious meals for cancer patients in Napa and Lake counties.

“Another NVYAC program that has make a profound difference involved a dinner for combat veterans at the Pathway Home project in Yountville. It was stimulated by an article in the St. Helena Star highlighting Terrence Ford’s photography work with the men who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

“Several parties collaborated: two extraordinary chefs, DJ and Kent Nielsen, a group from United Health Care, students from Howell Elementary, and NVYAC. Together, we created a life-changing dinner experience for Pathway vets on the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Students served and ate a delicious meal with the men from Pathway, who instinctively took the kids under their wings. Before you knew it, laughter filled a room previously filled with painful thoughts and anxiety. As one veteran put it: ‘Experiencing the innocence of a child brought joy and hope into my heart.’

“Such activities touch lives in both directions. Patients receive gifts of love, and youth learn life skills and values such as understanding and empathy, discipline, commitment and responsibility. Perhaps of most importance, they experience the joy of making a difference.”

What’s a current need or upcoming project?

“Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center works because of our volunteers. We’re always looking for what we call ‘Special Forces.’ These are individuals who have a nearly obsessive sense of compassion, passion and determination. They deeply care for the hearts, well-being, and success of youth in spite of obstacles and challenges.

“Specialty areas of need include skills in innovative thinking, human behavior, relationship development, and mentoring. We also value those with training in assessment, database development, business, social networking, public relations, finance and accounting, program development, fundraising, grant writing and management. If you have any of these skills and want to help enhance the lives of some truly great young people, please contact us for an interview.”

Neighbor2Neighbor is provided to the Register by Napa Valley CanDo. Founded in 2009, CanDo is a grassroots organization dedicated to “easing the path from intent to action.” Each week, CanDo provides a profile of a Napa Valley nonprofit or service club — what the organization does, what it needs and most of all, how an interested person can get involved. For more information on the column, contact Hilary Zunin at To learn more about opportunities for community service, email, call 252-7743 or visit NVCanDo .org.

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