Officials say youth center would fill a big need in SK | New

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – Erika Jackson, 41, is a single mother with six children in her care and is a full-time social work student. She can barely make ends meet and has no extra money for extracurricular activities.

“My kids, if they go to the recreation center, I don’t even have $5 for two of them for the vending machine,” she said of going to play hula hoop at the center of city ​​recreation.

She and her children live in public housing and have a budget to combine with little so-called “disposable” income. Money spent is most often for necessities.

So a youth center offered by the Jonnycake Center for Hope not far from their home would be a dream come true.

“Kids having another place to go other than the recreation center is great. Kids who go to the rec center focus on basketball or sports,” she said, adding that kids who don’t go to sports clubs or paid activities need something more in this city, she said.

Paula Whitford, school committee chair, longtime South Kingstown resident and woman of color, reinforced this point. She also spoke about some underlying racial inequalities and disadvantaged people in South Kingstown.

“Although South Kingstown has always had community centers in our town, we have never had a place where every child could go and feel welcome and have their personal needs met. It really depended on where you were from and what you looked like,” she said.

For city dwellers who find it hardest to manage their finances and juggle difficult family lives, this type of youth center would open another door for teenagers who need to learn social skills, help with homework, adult mentors, friendships formed under non-competitive conditions and support. parameters, said Jackson and other advocates.

Michael Coelho, Jonnycake board member and program manager for the Newport Boys and Girls Club, said: “The target population would be those who are most vulnerable in the community. The shelter should provide additional support for those who do not necessarily have a “level playing field”. »

He also noted, “There are a few youth-serving organizations in the community, but [we’re] I don’t know if the services provided meet the needs of many.

It was with these and other ideas in mind that the Jonnycake Center decided to close its nearly 50-year-old thrift store and repurpose the space at 1231 Kingstown Road, Peace Dale, into a center for young people.

Plans call for it to open in the spring. It would offer many activities and a meeting place as well as educational assistance and mentoring advice. All of this and more would be done under adult supervision.

It will also aim to solve another problem. In this foggy time of seeing the devastating results Covid has brought to adolescent mental health, this center would also tap into a growing need to help address these issues as well.

Nearly 40% of high school students reported experiencing mental health issues during the coronavirus outbreak, according to published results of a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey.

Gay, lesbian or bisexual high school students, as well as girls, were particularly likely to say their mental health had suffered during the pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center review of CDC findings, because they were cut off from needed support from friends. due to restrictions and social distancing.

In the survey, “poor mental health” includes stress, anxiety and depression.

Additionally, 44% said that in the past 12 months, they felt sad or hopeless almost every day, for at least two consecutive weeks, and stopped doing some usual activities.

For parents like Jackson, these results are consistent with their observations. Jackson stressed that it’s important to give young people alternatives to staying home alone.

They also need to find meaning through other activities, such as those planned for the youth center, which can help alleviate some of the feelings they express, they said with experts.

That kind of sentiment echoed through the Jonnycake Center’s 2021 survey of 300 members.

“We’re hearing in the community that kids need a safe place,” said Jane Hayward, chairman of Jonnycake’s board of directors and former secretary of the state’s Office of Health and Human Services.

Kate Brewster, executive director of Jonnycake, agreed.

“This survey has underscored the need for this. Members noted the need to focus on physical health, affordable housing and enrichment for youth and children, which this center helps address,” she said.

Brewster recalled a small, but telling, example involving children in South Kingstown who live minutes from many area beaches with surfing opportunities along the Atlantic Ocean.

“This summer, in one of our programs, we took them surfing. These children have never been exposed to surfing. Most have never been to the beach. After this summer they want to buy surfboards and wetsuits,” she said.

“Some of these children have never even been to Point Judith,” she said, referring to the scenic ocean spot seven miles – a 15-minute drive – from their homes in public housing rather than to expensive developments a few kilometers away. miles away from where property values ​​have skyrocketed.

She envisions the center having activities like those described by Jackson as well as those to teach woodworking, screen printing and graphic design. She also sees programs involving yoga and self-defense on the horizon for the youth center.

“I also think it’s important to have bean bag chairs and a ping-pong table here to play or sit down,” she said, especially for children who may not be supervised. by an adult at home before hours after school ends.

These times can lead to problems of all kinds, from reinforcing mental health issues due to loneliness or other causes, to tempting drug addiction without getting caught, experts have said. in Youth Counseling and Jackson.

“I know at least 15 mothers who would want this kind of place for their children because it would help them develop a better life,” she said.

“I grew up in Providence, I grew up in the ghetto. I moved here so my kids would have a better life,” Jackson said.

About the author