Pamela Jackson --
Editor’s note: This is the first article of a five-part series on Marine Corps Community Services.
While the parents are away, the kids will play - and learn to be financially savvy, healthy leaders who get good grades in school.
The Youth and Teen Center at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., provides a safe and positive environment for children of active-duty families and other base personnel.
In addition to being a fun and safe place to hang out, the center offers various programs to increase character and teach future employment skills.
Currently, the staff serves 12 children after school each day, but during the summer months, that number swells. More than 70 youth and teens were served last year.
“We are a Boys and Girls Club of America affiliate site and provide homework assistance as well as life-enhancing programs to youth ages 9-18,” said Michelle Ramos, director, Youth and Teen Center, Marine Corps Community Services, Marine Corps Family Team Building, MCLB Albany. “The youth have fun with outdoor activities, being active and learning leadership and money management skills.”
Ramos said in addition to being a welcoming and inviting place where the youth can learn and grow into productive citizens, there are many benefits to coming there after school because they encounter so many challenges, both on and off the base.
“They have to deal with their parents’ deployments, temporary additional duty trips and sometimes one parent has the burden of keeping the family afloat. Here they do not have to worry about that because they have a good time with their peers and build meaningful relationships with caring adults,” she said.
The programs offered are all-encompassing and treat the entire person, according to Ramos. Some of the programs are Smart Moves, which teach youth to make good choices and lead a healthy lifestyle and Triple Play, which encourages them to be active and keep their bodies moving.
“Some of our other programs encourage leadership and teach life-enhancing skills,” she said. Career Launch helps prepare youth to be ready for the job world when they get older. It teaches interviewing skills, how to complete a job application and resume.”
One of the participants said the staff at the youth center is “super nice” and helps him with his homework.
“They helped me get good grades, which is important because I’ve been getting more As than I usually get, which is a plus,” said Brendyn Schaefer, a fourth grade student who attends International Studies Elementary Charter School in Albany. “Sometimes we get new people every once in a while, and we play video games and challenge each other to see who can win. We get to go on field trips to places like the skate center. This is an awesome place and everyone should come.”
Ramos said another popular program with the youth is Power Hour, a homework assistance program where participants earn points for doing their homework and getting it checked by a staff member.
“At the end of the month, they get play money to spend at the Power Hour Store where they can buy school supplies, toys, footballs, pool sticks, and more. Incentives encourage them to do their homework and gives them positive reinforcement for something they have to do anyway,” Ramos said. “It also teaches them money management skills because they can save their money for a bigger item, spend some and save some, or spend it all at one time. The kids really look forward to it.”
Christina King, youth center assistant, said her primary responsibility is to make sure the children have a good time and check their homework to ensure it is complete before they go home.
“I have worked here for three years and love my job because we get to create the programs we run and make sure the kids are enjoying themselves. I love interacting with them and getting to know them one-on-one. It is fun to watch them grow up, see the new faces, new characteristics, their likes and dislikes and how they interact with one another,” she said.
Jaton Johnson, a fifth grade student at ISECS and said he loves the center because he gets to do things he has never done before.
“We sign in, do our homework and get Power Hour points, and then have fun. We get to play games like Smart Moves and Triple Play. I have a lot of fun because I get to do things I never did before. I get my homework done and made As on my last report card because they helped me,” he said.
The program is open to children of active-duty military personnel, Department of Defense civilian and contract employees, activated reserve and National Guard personnel assigned to MCLB Albany.