The Shafter Press - Serving the community since 1922

By Rochelle VanderHelm
The Shafter Press 

SYC gives kids a fun place

$1.5M investment is paying off


Rochelle VanderHelm | For The Shafter Press

Mattie Lemmons leads the creative writing activity.

At 8 in the morning, the doors open to offer a whisper of cool air. Inside, 30 or so kids patter around on the peeling floor of the gym. A few doors down, the little ones get ready to blow black paint all over their papers. Hopefully, in a couple of minutes the inky dots will turn into a beautiful, if lopsided, tree.

"Miss Angie" gives instructions, and the children begin to spread their paint. One is disappointed with the result of his huffing and puffing, and resorts to pushing the paint around with the straw instead.

Every day, the staff plans activities like these for the children at the Shafter Youth Center.

Later, they have lunch and, oh glory, recess, free time, whatever you want to call it, one group of boys explains.

But first, everyone has to be quiet before we can be dismissed, one says.

The table falls silent and the boys all look over their shoulders at Miss Angie. She nods, and they all scuffle over and around chairs to the door.

The Community Action Partnership of Kern established the Shafter facility in December 2003 with a $1.3-million grant from the California Youth Authority and an additional donation of $249,000 and a plot of land from the City of Shafter.

"Since then, we're funded with a CSBG [Community Service Block Grant] from the State of California," said Program Manager Angie Nelson. "We've been privileged enough to be funded by a teen pregnancy prevention grant" and gang prevention grant as well, Nelson said.

During the school year, SYC serves the community with an after-school program. During break, the summer program kicks off at 8 in the morning and can go until 5 p.m. There are half-day programs for the morning and afternoon.

Nelson is happy with the services that SYC can offer. For parents who work all day and can't get a babysitter, SYC keeps them off the streets. Otherwise, "We have parents who just want the kids out of the house, off the Xbox, so they send their kids here," said Nelson.

The staff at SYC are always looking for new ways to keep the children engaged. Every week of the summer has a theme. One was beach week, and the kids were looking forward to a trip to the coast for a beach cleanup.

A bit ago, it was Shafter Week for the kids, and SYC had representatives from the Green Hotel, the Shafter Depot Museum and Minter Field Air Museum.

Once, Ron Pierce, of the Minter Field Air Museum, brought out the former Army base's fire truck to show the kids.

On the drive over, he was flooring it, hitting a full 30 miles per hour, he told the kids.

The kids asked if he had air conditioning.

"The windows," Pierce said.

Activity Specialist Cecelia "Miss Cece" Stewart is planning another theme week. She thinks she might choose cooking as her theme. "I do the food program...Sometimes I'm in charge of picking the activities during the week, but I'm more into the food," said Stewart.

The kids who come back every year know that they're going to have science and art and sports weeks. On the wall is a bulletin board showing the students who stood on one foot the longest, ran the fastest, and did the most cartwheels during sports week.

"I'm still working on a little bit of stuff ... so this week is a bit of a mystery for them," said Stewart.

Rochelle VanderHelm | For The Shafter Press

Edgar Montoya helps the kids with their activity

After recess, the kids begin their creative writing time, and some of the afternoon volunteers and staff come in to help. Activity Specialist Mattie Lemmons describes the activity, and the children scribble in their journals. There are seventy-five children enrolled in the summer program when it is full. It's full most years.

Seventy-five children can be a handful. Organization is key. The staff go over all the rules at the beginning of the year, and the children choose the consequences for breaking them.

"One of the first things I tell the kids is, 'If you don't want your mom to find out you did something wrong, don't do it,' " Nelson said.

"Everything is planned out so they're not running wild all day," said Stewart. "I just like working with kids. Everyone has their own character and I like getting to know them."

At the end of the day, the children go home with a painting of a black tree with little red flowers on it and a day full of games, learning activities and other kids to play with.


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