AYC: Guidance and learning " and fun
September 20, 2008
ASPEN ” Voted “Best Nonprofit” by Aspen Times readers in 2007, the Aspen Youth Center (AYC) ” a drop-in center for between fourth and 12th grade students ” looks like a fun place for kids to be.
And it is, according to executive director Sarah Visnic ” but it also is a place where important connections are made between kids and staff. And ultimately, it is a place where kids receive guidance and are taught important skills such as conflict resolution and problem solving. The center was started in 1991 in a downtown location, after several community members became concerned when a survey showed a higher than average incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among Aspen’s youth. It moved to its current location in the Aspen Recreation Center adjacent to the Aspen School District campus in 2003, and almost immediately the number of children it served increased “a lot,” Visnic said.
Today, it serves approximately 1,000 youths per year. Those youths make 19,000 visits to the center each year, and on average the center sees 50 kids per day.
“We’re busy,” Visnic said.
One of the things Visnic thinks the center does particularly well is give its students supervised ” but unstructured ” play time. Students can join clubs with topics such as arts and crafts, girl power, strong kids, culinary or homework. But they also can play ping-pong or talk with a staff member, said Visnic. In the summer, the center offers field trips to go rock-climbing, white-water rafting or climb a fourteener, for example. During the school year, they offer a “teen talking circle” where a group of students meets for dinner and discussion one night a week.
Visnic said that the center serves youth across different ages, incomes and ethnicities ” and the data (see chart) backs her up.
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“They come here because they want to be here,” she said. “I mean we have kids who have a better gym at their house ” and they come here.”
The AYC is most likely to see attrition in the eighth grade, she said, when students are figuring out who they are and what is cool. But often, she said, those students return in high school. And, while the AYC serves largely Aspen students in its after-school program, 50 percent of its summer visits come from downvalley students. There is no equivalent place downvalley, Visnic said.
The center runs with just four full-time staff, and its income comes entirely from grants and donations. Because the nonprofit is located in the Aspen Recreation Center and adjacent to the Aspen School District campus, many people think they are affiliated with the city or the school district, said Visnic ” who emphasizes that it is not.
In past years, the bulk of AYC’s income has come from events fundraising, Visnic said . However, the nonprofit is trying to earn more money from direct donations, she said, noting that event costs, unfortunately, eat into revenues.
That doesn’t mean they will be ceasing to hold events though, Visnic said . In fact, the 12 Hours of Snowmass, a recent fundraiser, turned into a major event when Lance Armstrong unexpectedly decided to ride in it.
“I talked to press from France,” Visnic said. “I’ve never experienced that before in my life.”
And from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, the nonprofit will be holding its Education Series, featuring Hara Estroff Marano, who recently wrote a book on over-parenting.