Three months ago the children of Fair Haven could only have dreamed of a place where they could go after school to learn about arts and music. Through a collaborative effort between the Yale Child Study Center and Junta, a community group serving the Latino community, that dream has become reality.
The after-school arts program, called the Neighborhood Place at Junta, is the Fair Haven chapter of an initiative started two years ago by state Sen. Toni Harp and Paula Armbruster, the director of outpatient services at the Yale Child Study Center. Their intent was to provide disadvantaged children in New Haven with an opportunity to study art.
Armbruster “was hoping that a group of committed adults within an alternative social environment will help kids channel their energies in positive ways,” said Laura Ewing, one of the two Yale Child Study Center coordinators for the program. “It is a preventative program for future mental health problems.”
The program, which currently enrolls 33 children between the ages of 9 and 11, holds classes from 4 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Local artists teach a variety of different classes in the visual arts, drumming, guitar, theater and dance.
So far the Neighborhood Place has enjoyed a lot of success and has received support from many different sources.
“We have had very positive feedback,” Ewing said. “We’ve had a chance to get a good group of artists who really love working with kids. The kids really love the program, and they love the artists.”
In addition to classes, the program has also organized field trips to many local museums and galleries, including the Yale University Art Gallery, the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Eli Whitney Museum, the New Haven Colonial Historical Society, and the Yale Center for British Art. Children involved with the Neighborhood Place can also attend music classes and concerts given at the Neighborhood Music School.
The program’s organizers are planning future collaborations, including a partnership with Kids Sail, which brings children to New Haven Harbor for sailing instruction; Leg Up, an equestrian program; and New Haven Community Gardens.
Efforts are also under way to identify communities that need Neighborhood Place programs and to secure funding from foundations and private donations, Ewing said. Next year, organizers hope to recruit more participants and extend the program’s availability to children from 9- to 12-years-old.
The program receives funding from the Yale Child Study Center and is coordinated by two social workers at the center: Ewing and Mariso la Salle. In addition, the program also employs four Yale students as volunteers.
Junta contributes to the Neighborhood Place by hosting the program at its Grand Avenue headquarters.
The oldest Latino community-based nonprofit organization in New Haven, Junta was first established in 1969 to provide support for first-generation Puerto Rican immigrants. It offers numerous services including English as a Second Language classes, employment assistance, housing referrals, immigration counseling and adult literacy classes.
The Neighborhood Place is one of many new initiatives Junta has taken on in recent months to reorganize and re-energize the organization.
“I thought it was a great program, not only because it provided positive opportunities for children, but also because the community expressed the need for an after-school activities program for Fair Haven children,” said Kica Matos, Junta’s executive director.