What Happens When Summer’s Not So Hot?

So Samantha Gross of Salon.com recently wrote a story about the budget crisis leading to major cuts in summer programming for youth in NYC. The DC Alliance of Youth Advocates also discussed how Washington, DC is suffering the same fate. The basic issue: communities have no money to provide parents with activities for their children during the summer months. Not only does this mean that youth will be more apt to experience summer slide, but it also means that families have to worry about childcare – a rare and precious resource in many urban areas. And although DC Lawyers for Youth has demonstrated that juvenile crime goes down in the summer months, the lack of summer jobs does mean that families who generally count on their older youth earning their own summer funds will be without that income this year. I’m not saying that our youth will turn to crime. The lack of income will, however, heighten the stresses of poverty, which lead to all sorts of social woes.

source: american psychological association

So what are we to do? I have some ideas… they require communities to work together, and for people to actually participate in each other’s lives, but that should be happening anyway. I’m not dismissing the difficulty of making this happen, given today’s climate, but I am tired of people making excuses. Rather than bitch about that, I offer up solutions.

  • Houses of Worship (herein referred to as “church”, regardless of affiliation).
    They sit vacant (and even barred up) every day except whatever day they’re used for services. Now, I’ve dealt with plenty of churches & I know that leadership always brings up the insurance concern. HOWEVER, there is always a loophole. For example, the church that held all night prayer sessions to serve people experiencing homelessness. Have some volunteers from the congregation staff the activity days in rotations, so there are little-to-no salary costs. The church is called to do these sorts of things, so why aren’t more getting involved? Instead of, “We can’t afford to do that,” the response should be, “You don’t hafta participate in worship unless you want to, but come on in!”
  • Department of Parks & Recreation.
    Word on the DC streets is that this is the place to be. I can’t say I really understand this, since I experienced them cutting programs unexpectedly during the DC Youth Count, but let’s run with it. They want people to utilize their resources; people need resources to utilize. How is this difficult? Well, there is that staffing bit. But I have ideas for that, too. More on that in a minute.
  • Seniors & People with Disabilities.
    Number one: everybody starts to panic when heat advisories are announced. Why? Because our elders are generally the first to suffer. They may not be able to afford air conditioning, may not have the wherewithal to make sure it gets turned on, or any number of other concerns. We’ve got youth without activities, but who need to earn community service hours in order to graduate. I’m sure DPR, DCPS, and even Ye Helpful Nonprofit can spare the little bit of ink it takes to sign off on some young people checking in on seniors to make sure they’re doing alright. Hell, DPR even hosts cooling stations to keep people without AC from dying. Assign a youth to an elder, make sure that elder gets escorted to a cooling station, let the youngin learn a thing or two from his or her new buddy, and encourage the youth to share the wiles of this newfangled world. We could even allow the youth to gain some leadership experience by putting them in charge of activities. The same ideas apply for people with disabilities.
  • Younger Youth.
    Now I know some people like to gawk at this, but older youth are great at working with younger youth. (We humans do have that age-old habit of assigning the eldest to babysit the younger siblings, after all.) Parents need child care for their kids. Let’s get some older youth leading group activities for younger youth. At DPR. And churches. While we’re at it, let’s write off some of their required community service hours.
  • College Exposure.
    Colleges need students in order to operate. They also have money (for the most part). I have run an Upward Bound program, and let me tell you, schools LOVE to help out prospective students. In addition to the usual tours & info sessions, I was able to get free meals, discounted activities and lodging, “exclusive” visits from admissions staff, and paraphernalia just by asking. Three of my students followed my lead & arranged their own tour during our vacation period and got the same treatment. The biggest hurdles will be travel expenses and meals. The good thing is, DPR participates in the free summer meals program. And as for travel, I’m not opposed to having parents contribute to this; they would normally be responsible for getting their youth to camp & other programs. DC has plenty of schools to visit. Trips to schools that aren’t so metro friendly can be paid for by requesting help from community members.
  • Corporations.
    When I received my Mentoring Program Coordinator’s Certification, I learned about b4students (now a Big Brothers Big Sisters program) as a model program. The short of it: young people need mentors and exposure to options. Corporations need write-offs and opportunities to give back to their communities. Get an expert in mentoring and magic happens (ok, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but you get the idea). I’m not saying we need to start mentoring programs, but corporations and even some small businesses are looking for opportunities to make a difference. Partner with them for space, funding, volunteers, and other types of sponsorships. Giant, Safeway, and Target are great at donating food and gift cards. Get on it!
  • Neighbors.
    Take your neighbor’s kid to work. PUT your neighbor’s kid to work (we all have chores that can be done). Form neighborhood playgroups (or book clubs or activity teams or…) What do the gutters look like on your street?  How many homes are on your street? Can each household put up $5 (or $5/week of the summer)? Challenge the youth to get creative in taking care of their neighborhood. Best (or most effectively implemented) idea wins the pot. Do these kids know how to cook? Start a community garden (you may even be able to get funding for it)
  • Unpaid internships (possibly for community service hours).
    Here’s are some nifty tips and a quick planning sheet. Designing an internship program really isn’t that difficult, but it’s not something you want to leave until the last minute. And yes, there will need to be staff time designated to supervision. But if this is done right, the internship experience will help young people gain valuable experience in being responsible workers, while also helping the sponsoring organization/company get some work done. (Yes, I am fully aware of the clusterfuck that is SYEP; the cool thing about this idea is that DC government’s hands won’t be involved to muck it up.) 

    N.B.: DC does have a Summer Fun Guide available for free online. Many of the structured programs are at capacity, but there are other options in the guide.

Supervision and Safety Concerns…
As I mentioned before, communities of worship need to step up to the plate. DC has plenty of very affluent people. Believe it or not, these same people don’t want Ray-Ray ‘nem to suffer due to funding cuts. Many of these people attend (and even contribute to) houses of worship. Fortunately, some of them already have members who have received federal background checks for their own programs. Rich churches aside, I know that it’s hard to get folks to cough up the $18 to do the background check (that’s a whole other post), but I honestly think that DC could save all kinds of money by at least subsidizing this expense. I also think that we can lean on our community partners to support this effort (see my note on corporations above).

This is what unemployment looks like in DC:


source: google public data (as retrieved on 2 june 2011)

These people need something to do. They also need to network. Volunteers from the ranks of the unemployed could be excused from the usual work search activities to provide adult supervision and support for the ideas I listed above. Helping young people have productive summers could also help unemployed folks expand their professional networks, which, as we know, increases job prospects. Not to mention that community service is great for combatting depression, which many unemployed folks deal with.

By no means do I claim to have all the answers (but if you wanna hire me to help you out, let me know). And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person making these sorts of arguments. But this has been on my mind for a while and now that I’ve calmed down from the madness of finishing my first round of grad school, I finally got the chance to pour my thoughts out onto paper the interwebs. I know that my ideas require intensive participation from various facets if the community. I make no apologies for this. In fact, it bugs the hell out of me that we have been reduced to begging people to look out for each other.

  • I’d love to hear your ideas on what we can do to ensure a safe, productive, and fun summer for our youth. Of course, if you’ve got info on what’s already happening -in DC or elsewhere- please post it in the comments!

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