The Kids are All Right: Aspen Youth Center celebrate 25 years
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The Aspen Times Weekly and Aspen Public Radio launch a new collaboration with this week’s cover story on the Aspen Youth Center’s 25th anniversary. Hear the kids play dodgeball and talk about why they love the AYC, as well as a discussion with Executive Director Michaela Idhammar and longtime board member Sue Smedstad, at aspenpublicradio.org. And check out more photos and a video of a day at the AYC at aspentimes.com.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DODGEBALL … OR AT LEAST THAT’S THE VIBE YOU GET WHEN YOU ENTER THE MADCAP WORLD OF THE ASPEN YOUTH CENTER. BUT REALLY, DODGEBALL IS JUST A METAPHOR FOR WHAT THE AYC MEANS TO STUDENTS WHO SOMETIMES CALL THE CENTER HOME — AND OFTEN THEIR WORKING PARENTS WHO ENTRUST THEIR CHILDREN TO THE AYC AND ITS STAFF.
“They all love the dodgeball,” says Michaela Idhammar, executive director of the Aspen Youth Center, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 31. “But dodgeball is really just an example of what the Aspen Youth Center is all about; what we are trying to offer the kids who come here after school, in the summer, on days off school.”
The AYC, as it’s known to most, is located upstairs in the Aspen Recreation Center; it was once housed downtown (see timeline, below). It is weekdays for kids in grades 4-12 from Aspen, the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond. It’s mission is simple: “providing a safe and supportive place where youth can connect, learn, and grow during their out-of-school hours.”
A large part of that mission can be seen when you break down the game of dodgeball itself: teamwork, respect, hard work, and, of course, fun.
“From the beginning, we knew this place had to be something the kids themselves created,” says Sue Smedstad, a longtime board member and co-founder of the nonprofit center. “Previous incarnations, we called them ‘teen centers,’ didn’t succeed; when we let the kids help determine what they wanted and need, we saw success. And it continues to grow to this day — 25 years later.”
Among the reasons for the AYC’s ongoing success is the fact admission to the center is free to all comers.
According to an Aspen Times article, in 2010 an anonymous donor agreed to cover all program costs for one year — a contribution in the ballpark of $12,000 to $16,000.
While $6 — the previous admission fee — may seem reasonable, Idhammar says the center has seen usage numbers rise 40 percent since the facility has been free to all.
“I think what this does is makes it an easy option for all kids,” says Idhammar. “It has also allowed us to focus more on programming, improve staffing, create an even better environment for the kids who come here.”
But it doesn’t come cheap. The AYC is a nonprofit; and despite its location in the city-owned ARC, it receives no taxpayer money. Contributions and an annual benefit (see sidebar, left) now keep the center up and running — and free.
Which is why so many in the community remain committed to its continued success as a safe place for local kids to call home.
“Without AYC many kids would be home alone or up to no good somewhere else,” says AYC parent and board member Susie Lee. “As we come upon our 25th anniversary, we hope to continue learn, grow and maintain a positive impact on future AYC generations.”
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