Tormohlen: A safe and supportive place for kids after school
Recently we’ve devoted this column to individuals working to effect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week we’re speaking with Michaela Idhammar-Ketpura, who runs Aspen Youth Center, the only nonprofit organization in the valley that offers a safe, supportive and no-cost place for the Roaring Fork Valley’s kids to spend their out-of-school hours.
Idhammar worked a variety of jobs in media, graphic design and web design before entering the nonprofit sector in 2005. She joined Aspen Youth Center in April 2015 as development manager and became executive director in March of this year.
Aspen Community Foundation: What is Aspen Youth Center’s mission, and what community niche does it fill?
Michaela Idhammar-Ketpura: Since 1991, Aspen Youth Center has been dedicated to providing a safe and supportive place for youth to connect, learn and grow during their after-school and summer hours. We were originally in the Rio Grande Building in Aspen but moved to the Aspen Recreation Center in 2003. Being directly across from the Aspen School District helps more youth come to Aspen Youth Center daily. Forty-nine percent of our kids come from Pitkin County. The other 51 percent come from downvalley, anywhere from Basalt to Glenwood. We do have kids, especially in summer, from as far away as New Castle, Rifle and Parachute.
During the school year, we average 50 kids per day. On Wednesdays, we see more kids for longer because they get released early. During summer, it jumps to 85 kids a day. I think part of the reason for that is it’s easier for downvalley kids to come for a full day than to come for just an hour after school. During the school year, we’re open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, including teacher workdays, snow days and some holidays. In summer, we increase the hours to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Currently we have more than 1,600 youth members. Last year, we had a total of more than 13,500 visits. We’ve seen our numbers increase by 40 percent since 2010, when we went from low-cost to no-cost membership.
ACF: Is there a certain age group that you target? If so, explain why.
MIK: We allow youth in fourth through 12th grade, but the bulk is between fourth and ninth grade. But we do have kids who graduate this year and have been coming since fourth grade.
The big problem we’re responding to is this: When kids don’t have somewhere to go during their summer or after-school hours — and there are many studies on this — they tend to have their first drug, tobacco and sexual experiences earlier. Aspen Youth Center provides a safe place to go which delays and/or decreases the chances that those things will happen and increases the chances that they’ll stay safe. It also decreases the likelihood of juvenile delinquency.
According to the After School Alliance, for every dollar invested in after-school programs and summer programs, taxpayers save $9 by reducing crime and welfare costs, improving kids’ performance at school and increasing their future earning potential.
ACF: Describe a typical June afternoon at Aspen Youth Center. Who is there and what are they doing?
MIK: In June we typically get about 85 kids, but up to 110, each day. They’re probably playing a game of dodgeball or participating in a science club like Myth Busters or Creative Cooking. Those are just two of our many clubs, and they’re both very popular. We also have free play, when they can play bumper pool, pingpong, air hockey and foosball in our main game room or head outside to play soccer or tag.
We also invite community members to come in and teach something they’re good at — dance, yoga, self-defense and screen-printing are a few examples. Kids love it when new people come in to teach.
ACF: What’s in store for the organization? Are there changes afoot?
MIK: We turn 25 on Oct. 31, so that’s a big milestone. This is a time of growth for us; we have a lot of potential to reach more kids. One of our goals is to ensure that everybody who needs us is able to find us. We want to spread the word about what we do.
This fall we hope to upgrade our space, painting, upgrading electronics and furniture, so we can last another 25 years. We’re actively working to find out what the kids want to see, and that will help us to keep them coming here.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
For the last 35 years I’ve been covering what we call the “salmon wars” in the Pacific Northwest, writing so many stories about salmon heading toward extinction that I’ve lost count.
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