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Op-Ed: Summer programs give youth opportunities to learn and grow

If you build it, they will come, or so the saying goes. When I reflect on the story of CASA Promoción Juvenil, I would say not only will they come, but they will keep building.  

From what started in 1994 as an organization to provide afterschool programs to a handful of kids, we now operate five youth centers across Ciudad Juarez and are building a sixth. Each center represents a portal to academic and career opportunities for the hundreds of young people between the ages of 10 to 20 that we serve every year.

Our growth is thanks to young folks in Juarez who have not only shown up to participate in our programs, but have also played a key role in shaping them. They tell us what they need, and we update our offerings to better respond to their circumstances. 

For example, like other quality afterschool programs in our region, many of which are members of the BOOST Network, we offer a range of programming such as dance and performing arts, homework assistance, sports, tech training, and mural painting. We also take great pride in being able to offer a healthy meal to every young person who comes to our centers. We know that for those youth from economically challenged households, this meal might be the only meal one they get all day, so we take great pride in being able to provide this service. 

Our mission goes far beyond helping kids stay physically active or academically engaged. We also want to help them explore the possibilities that are available to them beyond school. So we’ve become creative in the types of programming we offer older youth.

Some youth have found a home in our international kitchen, where they gain culinary skills and explore culinary careers. Others have found a home in our tech support program, where they learn everything from how to become an IT technician to how to repair broken cell phones. And we recently launched two additional vocational options: a cosmetology program that helps teens train to become nail technicians; and a home repairs program that gives young folks the tools to do essential home projects like plumbing and fixing simple electrical problems.

Many of the older teens participating in these technical programs came to us because they were on the brink of expulsion from their local schools. We reversed their trajectory with a combination of love and practical skills that preserves their options after graduating.  

People often ask me how we measure the impact that we are having in the community. I use two measures. One is “micro”: the thrill of watching, time and again, a shy young person who doesn’t know how to manage conflict or effectively communicate blossom into a confident and happy young adult who respects themselves and others. The second is “macro”: more and  more youth  keep showing up and enrolling in our programs. That tells me that we are making a difference in Ciudad Juarez. The more we invest in our youth, the more we are helping all of them to have good life outcomes. And that is how you build a community.   

BOOST’s Spring into Summer campaign is a great time to think about what the summer holds for the young people in your life and to make plans for structured opportunities for them to grow, play, and learn when school isn’t in session. Quality afterschool programs have a proven positive impact on youth development, and there are dozens of these programs in our region.  Each can make the difference in determining whether someone finishes high school, develops the skills to pursue a career, or has a network of caring adults and peers to help them make healthy life choices.

We have come far thanks to families in Ciudad Juarez, and thanks to our services, many young people in Ciudad Juarez have come far as well. I look forward to continuing this positive cycle in the years to come.

 

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Author:  Dra. María Teresa Almada Mireles, representante legal y directora, CASA, Centro de Asesoría y Promoción Juvenil

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