City Youth and Recreation Department works to reconnect with students and families following a disconnected year
Ángela Pérez, Contributing Reporter
This summer, New Haven youth could see increased opportunities for jobs and programming, along with increased student outreach during the school year.
On Wednesday, the aldermanic Education and Youth Committee met in a workshop to discuss these expanded opportunities, along with community outreach efforts. The meeting comes at a time of growing concerns over youth social-emotional development and learning loss resulting from a year mostly without in-person classes.
At the meeting, alders and members of the Youth and Recreation Department offered ideas for recreational activities and the annual Youth at Work program this summer. The committee also discussed family outreach and helping students return to school amid heightened rates of chronic absenteeism during the pandemic.
“This is an interesting time since we are transitioning from a hectic past summer having to deal with all the restrictions of COVID and kind of moving forward with some optimism,” said Youth at Work Program Coordinator Tomi Veale at the meeting.
Youth at Work will be providing summer employment to city youth through its programs running from July 6 to July 30. So far, the organization has received 325 applications and hopes to raise extra money to fund more work programs in the coming months. Elm City Communities, the housing authority of New Haven, has 35 slots for youth employment and New Haven Health has about ten slots. 57 non-profits and seven municipal agencies will also be providing work around the city. Many of these organizations are waiting for confirmation from the Board of Education regarding their plans, especially regarding the amount of space they will be able to provide and fill during the summer for the youth programming they offer.
Veale also noted that the Youth and Recreation Department will bring back some old staples of their summer programming. The department still plans to publish the Mayor Summer Youth Guide, which compiles opportunities around New Haven –– jobs or summer camps –– available for youth. The department is also accepting applications for their Book Award, an annual award that funds New Haven graduating seniors or alums pursuing higher education. According to their website, the award recognizes “distinguished youth” and provides “upcoming leaders the opportunity to expand their perspective of the world.” They will be accepting applications for the Book Award until April 23.
Gemma Joseph Lumpkin, New Haven chief of youth, family and community engagement, noted the importance of community outreach for students. The school district is currently experiencing unprecedented rates of chronic absenteeism, an issue that has sparked concern among district and city officials. Lumpkin emphasized the district’s focus on continuing efforts to reduce rates of absenteeism.
“Within the Family Resource Centers, we also continue on home visits. We do home visits to all of our families. In those home visits, we have wellness checkups,” said Lysie Rodriguez, Family Resource Centers Program Administrator. “Within those wellness checkups… we have found a lot of families that have emergencies… If we had not knocked on their doors, if we had not made that phone call, it could have been fatal.”
The city will also continue to fund Youth Connect, a school-based intervention program that is geared towards high-risk youth in danger of incarceration. Youth Connect has reinforced its programs targeted towards at-risk students in the school system by increasing social-emotional support, hosting effective online meetings and creating virtual re-entry circles for individuals returning from incarceration.
During the school year, Youth Connect’s services include student-led conferences, peer tutoring, mentorship, neighborhood conflict and gang intervention, mental health assessments and treatment, social-emotional support, assisted employment and soft skills training and career exploration counseling. Alders hope that these programs will re-engage at-risk students, and make them more likely to participate in school and summer activities.
“As you guys know, the pandemic has brought out the worst,” said Supervisor of Youth Development and Engagement Kermit Carolina. “We have a small population of kids who [the pandemic] really has brought some of the worst out in and they need our support.”
Joseph noted her excitement regarding the “Summer of Fun, 2021!,” a summer camp which will run alongside the Youth at Work programs. This year, the city plans to increase the number of sites from 6 schools to 12 and expand their hours of operation to run from 8 am to 4 pm. They also hope to collaborate with community partners to bring creative programs. Furthermore, the department plans to survey parents about summer preferences in order to get a better sense of their needs, organize a fitness challenge to encourage exercise among New Haveners and host a Summer Fitness Walk towards the end of the summer.
The Summer of Fun program starts July 1 and ends July 31.
Ángela Pérez | firstname.lastname@example.org