Answering the question, “What Did I Do on My Summer Vacation?” can be a source of embarrassment for low-income youth who’s families don’t have the resources to engage their kids in safe, holistic summer fun activities. Instead, summers are often spent ingesting a steady diet of reality TV shows, playing video games, and trying to avoid engaging in high-risk activities that beckon unsupervised teens. Enter the YMCA to help fill that void. Middle school youth participating in Y’s free STEM Summer camp, Groundbreakers, got a view into the window of the future, specifically the responsible use of energy resources, when they visited The Watershed Sustainability Center. The tour piqued their interest in identifying energy saving strategies in their own community. Groundbreakers summer camp is an extension of the after-school program at the Y’s CAQT Community Center, located in the Long Branch section of Silver Spring.
Situated within an apartment complex that borders the eastern county line, the CAQT Community Center has been bringing the YMCA’s innovative focus on healthy living, youth development and social responsibility to some of the County’s most vulnerable families for over 20 years, free of cost. CAQT serves over 50 students from first grade through middle school, providing a safe haven of stability and a range of support for these students, almost all of whom come from low income immigrant families. In an effort to help CAQT youth stay connected to learning and exploring during the summer months, the Y partnered with local arts organization Arts on the Block to bring the Groundbreakers summer camp into the community.
Patti Bryce, Director of Community Development, says that the new STEM camp was a natural progression from what they have been learning all year at CAQT Community Center. “Groundbreakers ties into the community revitalization and conservation efforts the kids are doing with the rain garden installation during the school year. We’ve partnered with Arts on the Block for the past 5 years for an arts-based summer project called Common Ground. Groundbreakers is just another way that the Y becomes a safe and welcoming place during the summer in a neighborhood where children often do not feel safe.”
Patti Bryce has helped the Y bring innovation to the CAQT community for over 5 years and previously at the YMCA in North Carolina. Patti says that she has enjoyed how the community revitalization projects have helped the youth who participate at CAQT see their connection to the larger world around them. For many of the children, the trip to the Watershed Sustainability Center was one of the few times that they have traveled outside of their immediate neighborhoods. The Y’s emphasis on youth development activities and programs helps teens in particular know their own agency and positively impacts their self-esteem and their ability to take risks in ways that they otherwise may not.