It takes a village to help kids succeed in school and life
Afterschool and summer programs benefit kids from all backgrounds
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Aspen Youth Center
From making homemade Pop-Tarts to self defense classes to group ski days to visits from puppies, the children and teens enrolled in Aspen Youth Center programs are experiencing what being a kid is all about.
Aspen Youth Center offers these free programs to all children in 4th to 12th grade, from Aspen to Parachute and beyond. During the school year, Aspen Youth Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., during which two structured programs — such as cooking, art, STEM, agility training, dodgeball, game room tournaments and more — and free play time are offered. During the summer, the hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and include 5 daily staff-led programs plus free play time.
“It doesn’t matter where you live or if you come every day or only a few times a year, all are welcome and it’s free for everyone,” said Aspen Youth Center Executive Director Michaela Idhammar.
Common risks, regardless of backgrounds
Regardless of a kid’s background, Idhammar said all youth are “inherently at risk.” Oftentimes, a lack of funds and/or lack of supervision are the reasons that kids don’t participate in activities. When kids aren’t involved in activities they often are bored, and boredom can lead to all kinds of bad choices.
“The existence of programs like ours delays the early use or alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. It also reduces juvenile delinquency and recidivism and teen pregnancy,” Idhammar said. “Also, all kids can face a variety of trauma from death in the family to divorce to bullying, these things cross racial, religious, and financial lines. Kids are resilient if they have mentors, family, and role models who help them learn how to be resilient. We are here for the kids to celebrate their triumphs and help them through the tough stuff.”
The American Drug and Alcohol Survey in 1987 is what kicked off the initial fundraising efforts that eventually formed the Aspen Youth Center. That survey of 5th through 12th graders revealed that drug and alcohol usage by local youth were significantly higher than state, regional and national levels, Idhammar said.
“Today, kids face a variety of issues. Vaping is increasingly becoming a bigger problem in terms of substance issues,” she said. “However, having a place to be when they are out of school helps reduce vaping and other issues such as bullying.”
Benefits for the entire community
Participation in afterschool programs is associated with all kinds of positive statistics. These programs can improve things such as students’ academic performance, classroom behavior, school attendance, academic aspirations, physical activity and dietary habits, according to the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (youth.gov), a collaboration of 20 federal agencies that promotes positive outcomes for youth.
In the summertime, Aspen Youth Center has resiliency and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum) programs, as well as space for kids to do homework and read. These programs can help reduce the summer achievement gap, which is a learning loss that is common during the summer for kids who don’t continue to learn between school years.
Afterschool and summer programs also provide community and economic benefits.
“Parents concerned about their children’s afterschool care miss an average of eight days of work per year, and this decreased worker productivity costs businesses up to $300 billion annually,” according to a 2006 study by Brandeis University.
All of these reasons are just part of why Idhammar and all of Aspen Youth Center’s staff are passionate about their work. Local youth need to know there are people in their lives outside of their families who care for them, she said.
“Each and every day we are trying to make a difference, sometimes big, sometimes small, we want to make a change in these kids lives,” Idhammar said. “My goal has always been to see the potential in every youth and make sure that we do everything in our power to see them live up to that potential and beyond.”