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Youth Center mentors Edwards' children

Ryan Gonzalez rappels down a cliff face at Big Rock Creek Adventure Camp in Valyermo, Calif. Youth Center children visited Big Rock Creek as part of an Edwards Youth Center summer camp. The center’s before and after program provides activities during the summer such as bowling, swimming, summer camp and amusement park trips.  (Photo by Sharon Harmon)

Ryan Gonzalez rappels down a cliff face at Big Rock Creek Adventure Camp in Valyermo, Calif. Youth Center children visited Big Rock Creek as part of an Edwards Youth Center summer camp. The center’s before and after program provides activities during the summer such as bowling, swimming, summer camp and amusement park trips. (Photo by Sharon Harmon)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- One of the dilemmas facing working parents is how to ensure their children are cared for when they get out of school when the parents are not yet home.

The Edwards Youth Center is one option available to parents when these dilemmas enter their lives.

"Our objective is to provide enriching, diverse, fun, quality programs and services for children and their families with enthusiastic, well-trained staff," said Steve Huebner, program director with the 95th Mission Support and Services Squadron. "We provide healthy developmental programs and environment to support the Air Force Flight Test Center mission."

The Youth Center is open to civilians, servicemembers and anyone here supporting Edwards. The center serves about 500 children, ages 9 to 12.

Two primary programs are available at the center -- the school age program and the general youth program, Mr. Huebner said.

"In the general youth program, the kids get to relax with their friends, have snacks and converse," he said. "We have a computer laboratory with six computers to aid them in completing their homework. When they go to school, it's complete."

A part of the general youth program's homework assistance program is the Power Hour by the Boys and Girls Club of America, Mr. Huebner said. During Power Hour, children receive homework assistance from 3 to 3:45 p.m.

The school age program is for parents that desire a more structured environment.

"The children have to be signed in and out for the school age program by their parents," said Sharon Harmon, school age program supervisor. "We do lesson plans to teach the children. What we try to do is keep the kids on their toes in what they are learning about in school. We try to talk to the teachers to find out what they are doing. We provide this service for children from kindergarten to 6th grade."

The center also features clubs for music, drama, science, art, sewing, cooking, dance, math and homework, Mr. Huebner said. The center is also starting a rocket program.

"Clubs such as cooking and sewing are set up to provide everything that helps a child leave the home at the age of 18," he said. "They help the kids rely less on calling the parents asking how to cook something or sew a button. These life skills allow the children to start cooking for their families at the age of 16."

In an activity from the drama program, two individuals from the Missoula Children's Theatre conduct auditions and select 45 children from the youth center, Mr. Huebner said. In one week, the children are taught acting and stage skills, which culminates in performing on a play.

The center provides sports activities to children such as soccer, basketball, baseball and softball. The center also has a program called Fit Factor Fridays.

"If you look at the youth now, obesity is on the rise because kids like to play video games, watch television and eat," Mr. Huebner said.

The fit factor program allows kids to earn points for every activity they do.

"On Fridays, we do stations for push ups, jump roping and other activities," Mr. Huebner said. "The kids also earn points throughout the week for activities such as mowing the lawn." 

On the last Friday of the month, the Youth Center staff brings all the kids out and they do all of the stations. Other times, the kids will do bits and pieces of the fit factor program.
 
"We don't force too much on the kids at once so they can enjoy exercising," he said.

In the summer, the Youth Center has the summer camp program.

"Summer camp is a big deal," Mrs. Harmon said. "The before and after program caters in the summer time. We bowl, swim and watch movies. Recently, the kids went to Universal Studios. We try to utilize the big selection of activities available in California."

The Youth Center consists of staff and volunteers, Mr. Hubener said.

"The people we select are very enthusiastic, fun, love being around kids, and they have something to offer," he said. "I would never put a staff member into a program they didn't want to do. Our volunteers help with the sports programs, coaching and dances."

Mr. Huebner said the center is important because it gives an outlet to youth.

"It is better for children to come here to enjoy our programs and receive life-skill mentoring instead of going out and doing things they should not do," he said. "If you keep a child in one spot, they will figure out something to do. The parents know their children are safe here. We're an outlet for education, skill building and we're there for them when they need to talk about things."