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JBSA News
NEWS | Sept. 24, 2011

Youth center's after school program dreaming big

By Mike Joseph 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

The School Age Program at the Lackland Youth Center can make a case for altering the often misspoken adage, "If you build it, they will come" by adding, "because there's still plenty of room."

The youth center's after school program, which focuses on enrichment activities for youth ages 5 to 12, could more than double its current enrollment and still accommodate additional children.

"The biggest message I want to convey is a lot of people don't realize that the care system in the Air Force - or any service - does not end at age 5; it continues," said Joanna Rios, the School Age Program coordinator. "A lot of schools don't have the funding to continue programs that are very important to children and their development. We provide those on a daily basis."

Activities and clubs at the center run a wide gamut, from fine arts to basic life skills. The center is also affiliated with two national organizations: the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and 4-H.

And the Air Force allows the School Age Program to keep any funding those national organizations might provide through grants or awards, Rios said.

"The quilt club won a national diversity award and we received $3,000," said Rios. "That money comes back to the children through enrichment programs.

"The fine arts program gives our children a chance to shine outside of the base, both regionally and nationally. We are absolutely thrilled with the exposure and the self confidence it brings to the children."

In addition to the sewing and quilt club, other club offerings include drama, art, garden, cooking, photography, Lego, Power Hour (homework), Kidz on the Move (physical activity), and YP ROCS (Youth Program Reaching Out to Community Service).

Youth also learn money management and savings concepts through the Kidz Expo Shopping Center and Power Hour Company. Points earned through incentives, such as completing homework at the center, are redeemable to purchase items like school supplies.

Children ages 9 through 12, who are eligible for non-fee youth programs, have a room set aside for their activities with one condition - they must be involved in active community service.

"The kids decide which one," Rios said. "Right now they're gearing up for the food bank, and every year we do stocking stuffing for the Salvation Army. They're also sending cards and small teddy bears to wounded warriors."

The program director calls the Youth Center building a "Taj Mahal" compared to their old facility. Visitors frequent the center for tours, and to witness the reigning Air Force Youth Program of the Year in action.

"We've had many VIPs come through here and the kids don't even notice them," said Rios. "They're so engrossed in what they're doing. That's how you know it's a quality program."

For more information on the School Age Program or Lackland Youth Center activities, call 210-671-2388 or visit www.lacklandfss.com.