Making an impact

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ YSS of Marshall County marks its 35th anniversary this year. Here Director David Hicks introduces YSS founder George Belitsos at its celebration.

In recognition of its 35th anniversary, YSS of Marshall County hosted a Celebration of Friends program Wednesday evening at the Marshalltown Public Library to honor its staff, program participants and board members. Two young men shared their stories about how the agency has bettered their lives.

“It’s been nice. They have helped me out a lot this past year – helping me do things I wasn’t able to do before,” Cody Hoover said.

Marney Opperman with YSS’s transitional living program, shared details about Hoover’s story with those in attendance. She said Hoover entered the program in May 2017 when the home of his adoptive family had proven too tumultuous in which to stay.

“He experienced a great deal of conflict. He had several interactions with the police responding to his calls at his family home,” Opperman said. “That is how Cody was referred to me.”

Since then, he has graduated from high school, worked to improve his mental health, and has gained life skills including cleaning, cooking and maintaining a household on his own, as well as securing employment.

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ David Hicks, far left, has served as director of YSS of Marshall County for the last 14 years. Program participants William Butcher and Cody Hoover, center, shared their stories at Wednesday’s event. They were cheered on by YSS staff members Marney Opperman and Darcy Andersen.

“The YSS program teaches clients how to pay rent – putting half of the money in a savings account – so when they exit the program, there is a savings set up to use to get them the things they need,” she said.

Darcy Andersen spoke on behalf of YSS’s after care program and one of its success stories – William Butcher.

“He is the golden boy of YSS,” she said. “He has been in several of our programs.”

Butcher said YSS has helped him become a more organized person, giving him the tools to learn how to save money for his future.

“I recently bought a house,” Butcher said.

YSS founder George Belitsos was present to discuss the history of the agency, sharing how the tragic death of Dean Beurskens in Marshalltown in 1974 helped catapult the need for services for at-risk youth into the public eye. In the mid-1970s YSS assisted Marshall County in opening its own emergency youth shelter, modeled after the Ames Shelter House program. After that closed, YSS opened an office in Marshalltown, offering a 24-hour hotline and a full-time counselor on staff.

Belitsos said YSS of Marshall County’s long-time director David Hicks has embodied the YSS standard of excellence with his leadership skills. Hicks has served as director the last 14 years, and has worked for the company the past 23 years. He will be honored for his service at an upcoming event in Ames.

“I learned more by making mistakes than I did by getting it right, but George thankfully helped to hold me to high standards,” Hicks said.

Despite YSS of Marshall County having to relocate after the July 19 tornado, Hicks said the agency has come out of the experience stronger, zeroed in on its mission.

“The tornado didn’t ruin our path, it cleared the way,” he said.


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or