Monday, August 23, 2010

Chicago Youth Centers: Elliott Donnelley Youth Center

Swimming lessons, field trips to the Shedd Aquarium, gym games, healthy meals….if these activities sound like summertime fun to you, then you’re not alone! Today Bradley and I visited Chicago Youth Center’s (CYC) Elliott Donnelly Youth Center in Bronzeville to see their Summer Fun Day Camp in its final week of programming for 2010 (sorry folks, I think this means summer really is almost over!!).

We were greeted upon our arrival by Marcus Davis, Mentor Coordinator at Elliott Donnelley. Marcus gave us a tour around the center and introduced us to staff in many different departments to offer a taste of the programs CYC offers to youth year-round.

Summer Fun provides recreational activities and a safe place for kids ages 5 through 12 to spend their summer months. In addition to fun activities at the center (in my glimpses into various rooms, kids were happily playing basketball, checkers, and enjoying computers), the program also takes the kids on biweekly field trips to a variety of places like water parks and the zoo.

One of the most popular parts of Summer Fun is the swimming lessons. The Elliott Donnelley Center is equipped with a pool, and kids have the opportunity to receive swimming instruction all summer long. At the end of the program, parents are invited to a poolside show to watch their kids demonstrate their newly acquired aquatics skills. The swim instructor, Ms. Arleta Williams, has been coaching swim lessons at Elliott Donnelley for twenty years and she herself learned to swim at the center! Arleta grew up participating in the program and always felt called to give back to the Bronzeville community and contribute her time and efforts to CYC.

Bradley and I also had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Caneal Rule who has led the Teen Leadership Development program for more than sixteen years. He discussed how students' behavioral issues in classrooms often stem from kids falling behind in a subject then acting out to divert attention from their lack of academic confidence. This year, he plans to have clubs for teens that focus on academic subjects and also offer one-on-one tutoring for youth who need extra help in a particular subject area.

Later, we met Ms. Larissa Adams, College and Career Specialist at Elliott D
onnelley. Ms. Larissa regularly meets with over thirty students in the College and Career Readiness Center to guide them toward formulating career aspirations, help them gain entrance into Chicago’s best high schools, and prepare students for college applications. I was amazed that this process starts as early as 3rd grade. As Larissa explained, the steps toward going to college begin in elementary school as kids take tests, learn about application processes, and begin to understand what it takes to land their dream job. For kids to go to college and launch their desired careers, they need to grow up with an ingrained understanding of what it will take to fulfill these aspirations.

Clearly, CYC does so much for youth by exposing them to opportunities, tutoring kids in academic subjects, keeping youth safe, and also allowing them to enjoy just being kids (in addition to the swimming pool and gym, the playground looked pretty tempting!).

Thanks to Marcus for showing us around the center—it really was a pleasure to catch a glimpse of so many kids enjoying their final days of Summer Fun.

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