Every month a special group of teens and young adults gets together in Ahwatukee to do something good for the community and for each other. What they offer the community is selfless giving, but what they offer each other is friendship and acceptance unlike what they experience in the outside world.

The organization is called Youth Organization for U, or YOFU. It was formed from Child and Family Support Services (CFSS), a social services provider agency in Arizona that provides one-to-one community-based behavioral support services for children and young adults with mental health struggles. Youth who’ve received services from CFSS came together in 2009 to form YOFU, and the organization has continued to grow since.

Today, 20 to 30 teens and young adults get together monthly to socialize and serve. Their activities fall under four pillars: having fun, giving back, inspiring hope and creating change.

“I like meeting new people, getting to hang out and doing stuff that will make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Corinna Alvarez, 23, who attends YOFU. “We’re all about making a difference and helping everybody out.”

At each meeting there’s a socializing activity, a service activity, and then free time where the kids usually sing and dance on a stage built just for them. Denise Baker, family involvement director at CFSS, said those who supervise the group have never had to ask the kids to accept a new member or not to bully. It comes naturally.

“They all want a chance to express themselves,” she said. “Everybody is a star in everybody’s eyes. It’s humbling and pretty moving. It makes me feel honored to be part of it, and to witness it.”

YOFU has made blankets and meals for the homeless, they’ve hosted fall festivals and open mike nights for their members. Each activity is designed to bring the kids from CFSS closer to each other and to their community. Directors at CFSS say they’re proud that it has done just that.

“I like that there are a lot of fun activities that help kids use their voice,” said Caitlin Taylor, 13, a YOFU member. “They don’t have to be shy. Their voice is heard. You’re with other kids that also have challenges and you can make friends here… YOFU has helped me see that I can use my talent… I’ve used my talent, which is dancing, and gotten to dance and gotten others to dance with me, too.”

For more information on CFSS and YOFU, visit cfssinc.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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