Fort McCoy News April 25, 2014

School Age, Youth Center staff make a difference

STORY & PHOTO BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

On any given work day during the school year, Fort McCoy's School Age and Youth Center (SAC/YC) has 45 to 50 children coming through its doors. These are Family members who'll come in and work on their homework, participate in a community-oriented club, or just mingle with friends.

In whatever activity the children participate in at the center, staff members have a primary goal.

Photo for SAYC article
Melissa Dubois, child and youth program assistant at the School-Age and Youth Center, prepares the center for the arrival of children in the homework room.

"The goal is for the children to have fun in the activities we provide," said Cori Yahnke, SAC/YC director. "The children can be playing and having fun, and, at the same time, they are also learning. We include the children's ideas in what we provide for activities, so that helps in their effort to enjoy what they are doing here."

The SAC/YC is more than just a place for military-affiliated children to go and have fun, Yahnke said. It's a place to help them grow through all that is offered there. The center is affiliated as a 4-H Club and with the Boys and Girls Club of America (BGCA).

Their programs focus on the four core support areas.
• Sports, fitness and health activities.
• Life skills, citizenship and leadership.
• Arts, recreation and leisure activities.
• Mentoring, intervention and education support.

"Overall, we provide after-school care and non-school day care for children in kindergarten through 12th grade," Yahnke said.

"One of our most active programs is the After School Program. It's a program where the center's staff picks up registered children from schools in Sparta and Tomah and brings them to the center to enjoy activities until 5:30 p.m. each school day."

The After School Program is available to all school age children from kindergarten age through grade 12 who are eligible for Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS) programs at Fort McCoy. The After School Program is free for youth in grades 6 to 12.

During the After School Program, after they are brought to the center from school, the children can choose to have a snack or unwind from their day by socializing and playing with friends. After snack time, youth can choose to participate in a club activity or go to "Power Hour" — the center's homework group that is also a BGCA initiative.

"Power Hour is one of our most-widely-used activities," Yahnke said. "We have staff members who support the homework room so the children can get help with their assignments if needed. Youth can also attend the Power Hour room to work on enrichment activities if they don't have homework. A variety of education-based games and activities are available in the Power Hour room to build on the skills the youth are learning in school."

Yahnke said the Power Hour room support can be linked directly to what the children learn in their schools.

"Our School Liaison Officer, Rebecca Walley, was able to get us the school textbooks and workbooks from the school districts," Yahnke said. "So what we have in our Power Hour room is the same materials the children have available to them at school."

Melissa Dubois, a child and youth program assistant with the center for the past five years, said the children who complete their homework during Power Hour are doing so voluntarily or through agreements they have made with their parents.

"Many of the children complete a homework contract with their parents," Dubois said. "This is an agreement they make with their parents to complete their homework while they are spending time with us. Power Hour is very successful and typically I believe it helps parents too because their children often have all their homework done before they get home."

For club activities, students have multiple choices, Yahnke said. These include clubs for art, drama, photography, citizenship, cooking, technology and sports and fitness.

"They really like art club and any of the sports and fitness clubs such as Triple-Play and Start Smart," Yahnke said. "The clubs help enhance what they are learning in school and what they are learning here, and all the clubs are directly related to one of our four core service areas."

Supporting the Power Hour and club activities are among the favorite parts of their job for Brittany Rodenberg and Richa Henderson, both child and youth program assistants.

"When they arrive here the children are having fun, they're learning, and doing it all in a structured, safe environment," Rodenberg said. "There's so much to offer here — it's good all-around for the children."

Henderson noted she enjoys interacting with the children and "being there for them."

"We all understand the importance of what we do here to support these children," Henderson said. "As a military spouse, I know the challenges these children face at home with deployments and other factors of military life, so it's nice to be here for them and support them in any way I can."

In addition to the After-School Program, youth at the SAC/YC are also able to participate in the SKIESUnlimited program.
SKIESUnlimited is an acronym for "School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration, and Skills" with the word "Unlimited" representing the unlimited possibilities this program can offer Army children and youth, according to Walley who is also the outreach services director in addition to being the school liaison officer. SKIESUnlimited is designed to compliment, expand and support the academic, life skills and athletic experiences children and youth have in schools and Army CYSS Programs.

"These classes are taught by imaginative and dedicated instructors creating experiences of value, excellence and enjoyment," Walley said.

"The SKIESUnlimited program is for children ages 6 weeks through 18 years old (high school seniors) and is provided by CYSS employees, volunteers and contract instructors in a variety of settings which may include Child Development Center, School Age Programs, and other Family and MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) facilities."

No matter the program, club or activity, Yahnke said there are always things for youth to do at the SAC/YC.

"I encourage parents to stop by and see what we have to offer," Yahnke said. "Whether it's our activities during the school year or during the summer with summer camp, we are here to support the needs of our post community's children and their Families.

We have a new facility currently under construction that is scheduled to open later this year. The new SAC/YC will open even more opportunities for Fort McCoy youth and Families."

For more information on youth programs at Fort McCoy, call the SAC/YC at 608-388-4373.