(These kids engage in a basketball drill Wednesday in the Youth N.O.W. program in Watsonville. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — For 50 low-income Watsonville kids, this summer has been packed with activities.
Their agenda as participants of the Youth N.O.W. Summer Camp has included a beach trip, a canoe voyage through Elkhorn Slough, library trips, sports, cooking classes and art lessons, just to name a few.
“They have been on the go basically for five weeks,” said Youth N.O.W. Director of Development and Community Relations Jenna Rodriguez.
Since 2010, the organization has become known for its after-school center, where middle and high school students drop by for tutoring and homework help.
They can also participate in various activities, or choose simply to hang out in the well-equipped coffee shop.
The organization even provides food, so young people can concentrate on their work without worrying about hunger pangs, Rodriguez said.
That school year program — free for participants — is funded by grants gathered by Youth N.O.W. staff.
During the summer, however, participants ranging from sixth to ninth grade pay $30 per week for their participation, a low fee that is nevertheless beyond the means of some families.
Several of the kids attend anyway, thanks to scholarships provided by Youth N.O.W. Still, organizers ameliorate potential costs by looking for free and low-cost activities, such as excursions to Watsonville Public Library and hikes in Henry Cowell State Park.
“We don’t like to plan field trips where we have to ask families to give more money, when their already stretching their pocketbook as it is,” Rodriguez said.
For that reason, summer program organizers rely on private donations to keep it running.
“It would be very nice next summer to know that this whole program is just funded separately, that someone just steps in and helps fund the program,” Program Supervisor Michelle Chaney said.
A total of 58 families signed up for the summer program, with about 45 kids participating every day. The program ended this week, and signup for the after-school program begins July 30.
Many participants say that, were it not for the program, they would spend their summer days sitting at home, Chaney said.
The program was created to offer summer activities to these types of young people; those whose parents work long hours and are not home to take care of them.
“We’ve seen students who are struggling and are just slipping through the cracks,” Chaney said. “Their parents aren’t in a position to speak up for them, and so we can.”
It also keeps kids occupied who might otherwise get in trouble or become embroiled with gangs, Rodriguez said.
“A program like this didn’t exist when we were in high school,” she said. “I think we can both say that, if there was something like this for our friends they wouldn’t be in the place they are now. A program like this changes lives.”
For organizers, the summer program is more than a mere day camp.
Absent the academia required during the school year, leaders can get to know the kids on a more personal level during the comparatively leisurely activities, Rodriguez said.
“The summer program is great, not just for our students but for us, because it gives us this time to have fun with our kids and not be so academically catered,” she said.
The program is always looking for volunteers and tutors to help the students on a variety of subjects.
Registration for the after-school program opens July 30.
For information, or to make a donation, visit www.youthnowcenter.org, call 768-7998 or email [email protected]
Donations can also be brought to the site at 31 Carr St. in Watsonville.