Center empowers, shapes Holloman youth

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
For some children, 3 p.m. marks the end of the school day, which means time to go home, play video games, watch TV, surf the internet, and maybe squeeze in some homework before hitting the sack.

But for the youth of Holloman AFB, 3 p.m. marks the opening of the Youth and Teen Center's doors, and with it, a world of opportunities for all who walk through them.

Unlike the babysitter next door or traditional after-school programs, the Youth and Teen Center's goal is to implement the Boys and Girls Clubs of America five core areas - health and life skills, character and leadership, fitness and recreation, education and career, and the arts - into every activity they offer, said Genevieve Melón, 49th Force Support Squadron Youth Programs director.

"Youth don't just come, sign in and sit until their parents pick them up, they all know there are different clubs that are meeting, activities that are going on, and they have a choice to be able to participate in anything they choose," Melón said. "There's something for each and every youth to participate in. We have a cooking club, art club, photography club, digital arts club, Smart Girls, which is a girl's confidence and friendship club, and a Keystone and Torch club, which teaches character and leadership lessons through service to the center and to the community. We also have a gym set up with basketball goals and a computer room with Macintosh computers that the youth can use."

In addition to club meetings and daily activities, the Youth and Teen Center also hosts camps and other recreational and informational programs.

"We have dances every quarter, we did a Fit N' Play camp, which was all about physical fitness, a Sideline Sports camp that introduced the youth to non-traditional sports, Camp Rock, which was a music camp where they wrote a song and made a music video, a sewing camp, a digital arts camp, and a dance camp, where they learned different types of dance like ballroom, Latin, hip hop, and country western," said Cheryl Horton, 49th Force Support Squadron Teen Program coordinator. "We cater our curriculum to what the youth want to do. I remember one time I came in and they were just throwing paper airplanes around, so we did a whole unit about planes and had a crew chief come in and talk about the different components of a plane. The youth have a lot of pride in the program because they know it's their program, and we're here to implement what they want to see and we guide it to fit with the five core areas."

The camps provide the youth a chance to experience something they normally wouldn't be able to outside of school.

"I want to go to culinary school, so the cooking camp was great and gave me chance to experience it firsthand," said Shelby, 10, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Justin (last names withheld due to operational security constraints), 9th Attack Squadron. "The Youth and Teen Center is awesome, and it means a lot to me because if this wasn't here, I'd be sitting at home with my mom and dad driving them crazy. Any kid that comes here is going to have a great time, and the staff will always be there for them."

The center also finds creative ways to give back to the local community.

"Our Keystone club is doing different activities to help homeless people in the Tularosa Basin, the Torch club is helping the animal shelters downtown, and both clubs are helping on base with the Airmen Cookie Drive and also making things for service members at deployed bases," Horton said. "We also had two 'Live Lean Green' lock-ins, where besides doing numerous healthy activities, we worked on solar-energy projects and did another service project for the local community."

Because of all the programs and activities offered, the center has seen its attendance rise in each of the past several years.

"When I started about five years ago, our average daily attendance was approximately 25 youth," Melón said. "I'm very proud to say that with the hard work and dedication of my lead staff, our numbers have increased exponentially. Currently we're averaging about 65 to 70 youth daily, and that doesn't include participants in the School-Age Program or Youth-Sports Program, which, thanks to Harry Miller, the Youth Sports director, has seen a participation increase of 32 percent from last year alone."

Even though the center's participation numbers have been trending positive for the last five years, Horton said one demographic has been a little more difficult to reach.

"We found that the teen program is not always strong in the center, because teenagers usually have more responsibilities because of high school sports, increased homework loads, or jobs," Horton said. "So we go to the high school once a month and we meet with the military-connected students there. It's called Student-2-Student, and there's probably about 40 or 50 students that meet. We see what they like or don't like, why they may or may not go to the Youth and Teen Center, and we implement changes in what we do here. So that's a way that we are still able to reach out to teens that don't live on base or don't come to the center, and it helps that we have a very strong relationship with Kathy Fuller, the military transition counselor at Alamogordo High School."

Another reason why the Youth and Teen Center is so successful, Melón said, is the rapport between not only the youth and staff members, but also between the parents and staff members.

"They know that this is a fun, safe place for their youth, and that's very important because of the sacrifices they and their child make," Melón said. "That's why I love my job - because of the youth we work for and how we empower youth here to take responsibility for their actions to become better people every day. One of our current staff members grew up as a military teen, so she wanted to work for us to be able to give back to other military youths. That's how I know what we do here is so important and what kind of a difference it makes in so many lives."

For some parents in the Holloman AFB community, the Youth and Teen Center provides one of the few outlets that their family can enjoy.

"For me as a single mom in the military, there's not a lot for us to do," said Capt. Kathryn Randall, 49th Medical Group and mother of two children that attend the Youth and Teen Center. "There's always something going on and you can tell that the staff here really cares about the kids. I'm so isolated from the rest of my family, so this has really become our second home. We're always here, and this has been such a great support system."

Some upcoming events at the Youth and Teen Center include the Smart Girls lock-in, kid's carnival, Image Makers photography exhibit, deployed kid's camp, and the New Mexico Youth of the Year event, where Holloman AFB participants will be competing with other Air Force youth from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., and Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

The Youth and Teen Center is open Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m., Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. exclusively for teens, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the Youth and Teen Center, the services they provide or membership information, call (575) 572-3753.