New Milford youth defender Maria Leo was ‘made for this job’

NEW MILFORD — As New Milford Youth Agency’s newest youth advocate, Maria Leo seeks to bring programs for the neurodiverse community to the forefront.

“It’s such an honor to be able to do this and I’ve been so committed to it because of my personal experience,” said Leo, a New Milford resident with two sons: Aidan, 18, who has autism and 16 years old. -Old Jake. “So with the support of the Youth Agency, we’re going to get there and it’s going to be amazing.”

One of its goals is to brainstorm program ideas with parents before developing them. It would build on activities, such as Halloween parties, Valentine’s Day parties and family hikes, that the agency organized before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With COVID-19, that kind of fell apart,” said Leo, who started working Sept. 26 as the community’s new youth advocate. “There is a huge need: there is no programming, there are no events going on right now, no support for parents right now. It’s so important to reach this group and I hope to work with Parks and Rec or social services or the library or city hall, places like that so that we can all support this group of people.

“I was made for this job”

Prior to working at the Youth Agency, Leo was a social worker at Danbury Head Start and the Employment Success program, and as a social worker for cases of proven abuse or neglect at the Department for Children and Families .

His two sons participated in Youth Agency programs; Leo said Jake accessed the agency’s tutoring program where high school and National Honor Society students are recruited to mentor younger students in need of extra academic support.

When his sons reached school age, Leo worked for 13 years as a school bus driver for All Star Transportation in New Milford to be available for his children. As she began to look for other opportunities, she saw that the Youth Agency was looking for a community youth advocate and knew it would be a perfect fit for her.

“I believe it was fate that led me to find the position of Community Youth Advocate,” Leo said. “The timing worked perfectly for me. I really believe that I was made for this job.

Leo’s predecessor, Kathy Jackson, worked for the agency for more than a year before stepping down in July for personal reasons, executive director Jason O’Connor said. New Milford’s personnel department, with assistance from agency staff and the board, led the hiring process.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Maria and look forward to the exciting work with the young people in our community,” O’Connor said.

Other initiatives

Leo said community youth advocates work with different community organizations and agencies, and children who are part of the family of youth agencies. Community Youth Advocates also work to help local youth get involved in their community through volunteerism.

“Everything I will do is based on what the kids of New Milford want,” Leo said. “My job is to see this through and make sure it happens while being part of the bigger picture of New Milford.”

In his first month, Leo said the agency created an LBGTQIA group and a student advisory council, which gives young people who volunteer for the council a chance to voice what’s going on at school. and to identify how the youth agency can grow and meet everyone’s needs.

Leo said the agency is working to launch a mentorship program, matching high school students with students in need of academic or social support. These are just a few examples, she says, of programs that will support the community and its young people.

Since the Youth Agency has had “their hands in so many different things,” Leo said there are so many possibilities for future programming.

“They told me the sky’s the limit, so we have the flexibility to try whatever we want to try,” she said.

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