Youth Challenge Camp: Inspiring Hope in Young People

Published: September 26, 2019 | By: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation | Category:

In response to the same violence that led to the creation of the SET Task Force, Jane Boyd Community House started a street outreach program in the area around McKinley Middle School. You Do Matter-CR builds community connections by offering a safe place where youth can gather, meet friends and interact with trauma-trained staff.

“We sat down with a bunch of students, and what we found was that there was a sense of hopelessness in our community,” said DaMu Diaz-Doolin of Jane Boyd. “They had nowhere to go and nothing to do, so they latched on to the negative things that were going on in their neighborhood.”

This summer, a new element has been built on the foundation of trust and empathy that You Do Matter-CR has established. The Jane Boyd Challenge Camp now offers activities and meals for at-risk youth who are not enrolled in formal programming.

After four years of building the program and relationships with the community, Jane Boyd recognized an opportunity to expand its services. A grant from the SET Fund helped start the Youth Challenge Camp as an extension of You Do Matter-CR. “Now that we had them showing up, we wanted to offer them something more,” said Megan Isenberg, Jane Boyd’s Director.

The Youth Challenge Camp added academic programming to address summer learning loss, but also social-emotional-behavioral programming to help build conflict resolution skills and a sense of security among the students.

Without summer programming, most of the area’s students would be disengaged or exposed to harmful behavior. “There’s violence, fighting and drugs,” said Neola Washington, who will start high school this fall. “Here we’ve learned a lot. We got better at listening and building teamwork.” Neola, who wants to be a professional model, points out that this makes her more prepared for returning to school than she would have been otherwise.

“I would just be playing video games and watching TV,” said Chase Cunningham, a student at McKinley Middle School. This is a common trend among today’s youth, especially those trying to remove themselves from risky environments. While staying inside may be safer, those idle months contribute to the ‘summer slide,’ in which academic progress is lost. The Youth Challenge Camp offers curriculum modeled on Kids on Course University, which has seen positive results in keeping kids engaged and progressing.

Challenge Camp staff also find ways to celebrate students’ success and encourage their hobbies to build confidence and hope, which in turn encourages them to stay invested in their futures. “When someone tells you that you have value, that stays with you,” said Neola.

Camp staff are also on the lookout for where they can offer more than encouragement. “Sometimes you’re just playing a game with a kid and you find out they don’t have food at home,” DaMu said. Challenge Camp offers meals for participating students and works to connect families to other resources in the community. Through these efforts, Jane Boyd and partnering agencies are helping kids stay safe, healthy and hopeful about their futures.

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