Task Force Chair, Thelma Jones
Mission and Overview
The SWNA Youth Activities Task Force (YATF) was created in 1982 by a group of SW volunteers. Its mission is to enhance and enrich the cultural, educational, recreational, and technological development of our youth, ages 5-25, in the near Southwest community (20024 zip code). Our goal is to meet monthly, or more frequently for programs such as our signature Computer-for-Kids (CFK) Computer Training Program. Our 8-10 core volunteers are involved with the CFK program and scholarship efforts. Other volunteers, including former YATF youth who have completed some of our programs (such as the summer jobs program, which started in the early 1990s), give back or pay forward by assisting with specific efforts, tasks, or assignments.
YATF has an annual operating budget of less than $6,000. Our funding is derived from mail solicitations and through the generosity of our dedicated and committed members, long-time residents, and consistent supporters such as the Friends of SW DC, which has provided several grants over the years. The solicitation produces an average of $3,000 to $3,500. For the past five years, YATF has awarded approximately 25 grants totaling more than $15,000. Our goal is to achieve an annual budget of $15,000, which would help us to better meet the many challenging needs of our youths and the 250-300 families that we proudly serve annually.
Computer for Kids Computer Training Program
Computer for Kids (CFK), our current signature program, was created in October 2007 to help reduce the digital divide in our community. Since its inception, the program has graduated more than 160 students (ages 5-14). CFK meets once a week for one hour for eight weeks at the James Creek Resident Council Computer Center (100 N Street, SW). It is taught by skilled computer instructors, including our senior instructor (a long-time veteran employee of The World Bank Group) and a retired technical guru with the Federal Government and DCPS. The computer training focuses on computer skill fundamentals such as keyboarding and computer parts. The training also includes use of internet search tools for schoolwork and basic use of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. The training emphasizes healthy eating by serving healthy snacks and uses every possible opportunity to share teachable moments that are in line with daily examples at school and at home.
Students graduate once they meet the requirements of good attendance, good behavior, and good participation, including parental involvement (which occurs periodically and has been a growing part of the program since its inception). The CFK graduation features a guest speaker, often YATF graduates or prominent people in relevant areas, presentation of certificates of completion, and a reception. In addition, the students receive a refurbished computer shortly after graduation, like the one they trained on during class. Donated computers and maintenance of the James Creek Computer Center are provided through a partnership with the SWNA Technology Task Force, which refurbishes computers donated from a variety of local sources.
YATF is considering expanding the training offered for older students (ages 9-12) to possibly include supplemental activities that focus on coding—which create more interest in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) programs. In the past, YATF has hosted a CFK summer camp two days a week for 1-1 1/2 hours per class.
YATF awards small grants ranging from $100 to $1,000 to support activities in our neighborhood schools (Amidon-Bowen and Jefferson Academy), recreational centers (King-Greenleaf and Randall), and our four public housings (James Creek, Greenleaf Gardens Extension, Greenleaf Midrise, and Syphax Gardens). These activities include food insecurity issues, clean-up day, distribution of back-packs, and various community activities such as Halloween and Thanksgiving. With the arrival of Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, YATF looks forward to supporting our first high school in Southwest since 1972.
YATF is pleased to have recently awarded a $600 grant to James Creek Resident Council to purchase shelves for an onsite food pantry. We also annually support the SW Comm-Unity “Summer in Lansburgh Park,” a well-established annual one-day gathering uniting former and current SW residents and their families. Held in August, the event resembles a family reunion with food, music, games, dancing, and various other activities such as information tables that appeal to a range of age groups.
YATF organizes and conducts field trips in and around the DC-Baltimore region to help widen our youth horizons, bridge the gaps in their learning, and provide hands on experiences, while simultaneously providing experiences outside of their everyday activities and environment. These outings have included, but are not limited to Arena Stage, The ARC, The Atlas Performing Arts Center, The Smithsonian Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, The African American Memorial Civil War Museum, opening of the Smithsonian National African American History and Culture Museum, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, numerous Washington National Baseball games, a one-day outing in Baltimore to visit the Thurgood Marshall statue and other sites, and day-long trips to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, local skating rinks, and Ben’s Chili Bowl, among others.
With a welcome helping-hand from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office, YATF is enthusiastically returning to its initial signature program of providing summer employment to our youth ages 14-25. In 2017, at least 10 youth received summer jobs under the leadership of Christine Spencer, YATF Member and James Creek Resident Council President. Several youths have been hired each summer since and at least five youth are scheduled to return for Summer 2021. Prior to a hiatus in our summer employment efforts during the advent of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Employment Program and a decline in our volunteer capacity, YATF provided paid summer employment for more than six years to approximately 300 youth. This included soft-skill training on Saturdays, assigned mentors, and field trips to worksites. Some of the worksites that employed SW kids included the JW Marriott Flagship, American Bar Association, United Way of the National Capital Area, HUD, Food and Friends, WUST-AM, and the World Bank Group. The success of our employment program was the inspiration behind a YATF member, who also retired from the World Bank Group, piloting and creating a successful summer employment program at the World Bank Group in 1999, which still exists today and is a leader in providing summer employment for youth.
Safe Sitter (Babysitting)
YATF has also hosted a successful Safe Sitter (babysitting) training program. For more than five years, YATF was touted as being the only registered Safe Sitter site in the nation’s capital. We trained more than 80 students (ages 11-13), including a Girl Scout troop from Northwest DC that engaged our service, on how to properly care for children in their charge. Active plans are underway to resume this program, which was once taught for five half-days as part of a summer camp. With many latch-key kids, the program does more than provide an income for youth: it is also a life-saving technique, as students learn first aid and CPR from certified Safe Sitter instructors. The program’s inspiration was a result of the lead YATF’s instructor serving as a babysitter to help defray her college tuition.
One of the many things that YATF is proud about relates to how we work closely with the SWNA Technology Task Force, as mentioned previously, and with the SWNA Education and Scholarship Task Force (ESTF). YATF shares at least six of the same members, including ESTF’s current chair, and former YATF chair. We also share the same treasurer. Students who have completed the CFK classes are now scholarship recipients. CFK student Jada Miles, who enrolled in the program when she was about 12 years old, is a 2020 college graduate. Once we ensure that the kids are in our reach, we make a conscious effort to follow, remain in touch, and remain involved with their lives and their families to help ensure that the students take full advantage of our scholarship program and other opportunities. While this is challenging, we are proud of the progress and results thus far: at least ten students that started in YATF have become ESTF scholarship recipients.
YATF is also pleased that at least three youth who have graduated from our previous summer jobs programs have become long-time active YATF members. Others, as previously mentioned, have been responsive or heeded our calls for individual efforts such as being guest speakers for our CFK graduation and serving as volunteers on specific assignments. We are proud that they are giving back or paying forward. ANC6D06 Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton is a poster child in this regard—she started with our summer jobs program at Food and Friends when she was 14 years old.
While YATF has been a staunch advocate for SW youth from its inception, we are assuming a greater advocacy role around our neighborhood schools’ modernization and instructional needs, including the need for maintaining qualified teachers and increasing funding for specific programs, such as technology. Our advocacy includes calling and writing our elected officials and inviting them to speak on relevant issues at the SWNA monthly forum, among other efforts.
In 2020, YATF collaborated with the SW Action in response to inappropriate and unfavorable comments about SW youth that were widely reported on Next Door and other forums. The result was a message about the collective efforts that many were doing in SW to help with the growth and development of our youth. The open letter to the community was subsequently printed in The Southwester. Unfavorable and inappropriate comments about our youth have ceased on public forums such as Next Door. The SW Action is a group of SW residents, including YATF’s chair, who organize and advocate for a more equitable, anti-racist, and environmentally sustainable neighborhood. YATF is also working with the group to produce a list of resources for SW youth.
Breast Health Classes
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States. About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer during her life. Although breast cancer mostly occurs among older women, in rare cases breast cancer does affect women under the age of 45. About 9% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age. With breast cancer being diagnosed at earlier ages, it is important that awareness of breast health is taught age appropriately for younger girls. Several years ago, YATF’s Thelma D. Jones, a certified breast health educator and breast cancer champion, conducted a breast health seminar for more than 15 girls (ages 10-14) for the Young Ladies on the Rise Program at Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest DC. The overall success of the program was determined by the students’ evaluation, which included some very candid, inspiring, and useful comments. Over time, some of the participants and their parents have continued to share their appreciation of the seminar and have encouraged YATF to hold similar classes in the future. This year, YATF is poised to conduct a class with high school students at Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts (RWPCS), Southwest’s first public high school in almost 50 years. YATF’s goal is to offer age-appropriate breast health classes to the students at RWPCS, including the boys, as men get breast cancer as well. The classes will be offered online or in-person, depending on the prevailing Covid restrictions once the training commences. YATF will likely be one of the few youth programs in the city which offers this type of program. For the past few years, Jones has been invited to speak on breast health to the youth in the Mayor’s Summer Employment Program and continues to receive rave reviews.
Getting Our Message Out
Lastly, YATF provides articles to The Southwester, the official voice of SWNA, on our programs and activities. This not only raises awareness of the positive efforts of our youth but also increases their self-esteem and support from the community. YATF also regularly creates poster boards which showcase our programs and activities. We realize that these promotional or awareness raising efforts not only help in improving our youth’s self-esteem and their families but also help with our fundraising efforts, allowing our supporters to see first-hand how their donations are welcomed and used as a sound investment in our youth’s growth and development. Additionally, these articles are placed in school files, used to support funding efforts, and placed strategically on the walls of students in their homes. Equally important, showcasing the positive things about our youth helps to balance the lack of knowledge and unfavorable images that some residents have about our youth.
Lending a Helping Hand
Volunteers are welcome to become a member of the task force, which meets every other month for about 1-1/2 hours. In terms of time commitment, we welcome a commitment of at least 2 hours per month, depending on the nature of the project that you are working on.
If you are interested in volunteering or contributing to the YATF, please email [email protected] or call (202) 251-1639. Checks or money orders should be payable to the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and noting YATF in the memo line. Please make your check payable to the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, P.O. Box 70131, or donate on line at https://www.mightycause.com/organization/Southwest-Neighborhood-Assembly and click on Youth Activities Task Force.