Youth center has big ideas, but needs community help
“We are currently sending out letters to all of the parish schools in hopes of creating a youth advisory panel that will help us get a better idea on what services to provide,” said Fields. “But right now, we also need donations from local businesses and residents in order to stock the center with necessities.”
Computers, printers, software, copy machines, televisions, DVD players, video game systems and games, along with accessories like headphones, CD players, pens, pencils and paper are just a few of the most needed items.
“We currently offer homework help and after school tutorial services, but need computers and tutors in order to give the kids a quality session,” Fields said. “We’ve secured both retired teachers and student tutors, but still need more.
“We realize that tutoring is a big time commitment, but if enough people can donate an hour and a half of their time each week or even once a month, then we wouldn’t have to rely on just a few select tutors.”
Fields points out that the center is working with student organizations and using Internet advertising to help get the word out.
“We are using all resources available to us,” she said. “Kids are posting bulletins on social Web sites like MySpace and that’s helpful because it lets people know what type of center we are and what services we provide.”
The Umoja ComeUnity Center is also open to helping residents fulfill community service requirements.
“I know a lot of Beta Club and ROTC members who need to fill community service hours and we’re here to help them do that,” said Fields. “There are always tutoring positions available, and people can also help teach dance classes or just come in and spend quality time with the kids.”
Fields says that the center’s high school, middle school and private parties have been a huge success.
“We’ve hosted parties after football games and dances where 150 to 200 kids were in attendance,” she said. “And the most important thing is that they are in a supervised and safe environment away from drugs and underage drinking.
“To be perfectly honest, the sheriff’s office and the parish’s planning and zoning department weren’t thrilled at first with the idea of the center hosting after-hour parties, but we’ve hired police detail and have yet to have a fight break out or any violence occur.”
Fields has recently spent much of her time developing the center’s services by visiting high schools and talking to the kids about what it’s like for them to be a teenager.
“We all know that underage drinking is a problem in the parish, but parents can rest assured that kids are not drinking at our events” said Fields. “I’ve talked to a lot of students and I’ve asked them to identify what are the problems that they notice for kids in the parish and secondly, what are some solutions. And my third question to our youth is if they are willing to help.”
The most apparent issues teenagers said they are faced with included teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, running away and having no place to go when they’re not in school.
“We provide them with an outlet, a place where they can go to and provide them with resources that they need to engage in positive activities,” said Fields. “Once we have the computers, we can do college and scholarship searches or teach them how to apply for a job.”
Fields adds that the center’s neighboring concession stand, Four Re’s Delight - also owned and operated by the Fields family, has developed a new purpose and is quickly becoming an educational tool.
“Our snowball stand is a place where young people can learn how to operate a business,” she said. “We have three kids who want to start their own business. So instead of just showing them how to operate a snowball machine, we’re putting them in management positions where they can train other employees.
“The kids not only know how to operate the equipment and balance the accounts, but they’re also learning essential accounting skills dealing with profits, losses and expenses.”
Fields says that the center has also dipped into the retail side of business by assisting one of the kids with her dream of selling fashions and other accessories.
“We helped them start the business by aiding with the inventory purchases and giving them a place to sell their merchandise,” she said. “So now we have luggage and handbags available for purchase.”
The center’s name, Umoja - which means “unity” in Swahili, will soon take on a new look after students at the parish’s Satellite Center design the organization’s new logo.
“We’re currently working with the Satellite Center to come up with a symbol for the center,” said Fields. “Basically, we’re going into the classes and allowing the kids to design a logo and our business identity. They’ll be responsible for everything that goes into the marketing aspect of the center like the brochures, the pamphlets and our Web site. This way the kids of St. Charles can take ownership of this facility.”
Fields adds that she hopes to be able to develop a youth panel to vote on the design also within the school system.
“Our main goal right now is to get the equipment that we need and finalize our youth advisory panel,” she said. “I’d like to go through the school system to get together a group of kids who want to talk about the issues that they face and discuss solutions. Then we’ll have an actual plan and can move forward with the center.
“It’s one thing for us to say that this is what we want the center to be like, but it’s another thing for the kids to be able to come together and tell us what they want.”
Fields says that the Umoja ComeUnity Center’s focus isn’t just about shining a light on academic excellence, it’s about lifestyle training, character development, leadership and community service.
“We want to give kids the opportunity to be involved in their community in a positive way and help them become better individuals,” she said. “Our motto is ‘one child at a time’ and we can all do something to help our youth.”
For more information on the Umoja ComeUnity Center or to make a donation, contact Fields at 985-785-5450.
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