National research shows the youth crime rate for the first hour after school is three times that of other hours of the day, and youth not in after school programs are three times more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex than those who are enrolled in an activity. Keeping youth active and engaged in organized activities improves their future civic participation and job readiness.
With these statistics in mind, a new website has been launched with the goal of keeping Juneau’s youth active.
The site, www.juneauyouth.org, was one of the results of the After School Coalition, a group of leaders from various youth agencies and organizations throughout the capital city that was organized by Kevin Ritchie. Ritchie has been interested in after school programs and activities for kids ever since he helped Juneau Youth Services last year when the Juneau Boys and Girls Club closed suddenly.
“With the reduction in after school programs at the middle school level this year,” said Ritchie, “we realized we need to do something to help youth find things to do.” An Association for the Education of Young Children survey last year showed approximately 70% of Juneau’s children are latchkey kids, meaning they go home to an empty house after school until parents are able to come home from work.
The After school Coalition is continuing work on developing after school programs for youth — the website is just one piece of the group’s larger goal. A recent $,2500 grant from the Youth Action Committee of the Juneau Community Foundation and an $800 grant from the American Seafood Industry will be used to help fund after school programs at both middle schools this semester.
“We are so jazzed about this new website,” said Brenda Hewitt, CEO of United Way of Southeast Alaska, “because it brings together all the great opportunities Juneau already offer our youth, from ages 0 to 18. Juneau is already youth-friendly, but sometimes it is hard to find out about all the activities.”
The comprehensive website was funded through a grant from the Rueben E. Crossett Endowed Fund, which is dedicated to children’s health in Southeast Alaska.
A complementary Facebook page entitled “Juneau Youth” has also been started to help push information about upcoming events to middle and high schoolers. The name Juneau Youth was chosen from a list of submissions from Cindy Pastorino’s Juneau-Douglas High School class. Liam McDermott came up with the winning name and earned his class a pizza party, which was held in December.
Youth at Zach Gordon Youth Center were involved in choosing the background and look of the site, which was built by former Juneau resident Colleen Norman. Her company, Coast to Coast Web Solutions, was also responsible for the Juneau Community Suicide Prevention Task Force’s website, which has been hailed as a model for suicide prevention in Alaska.
“We looked around to see if there were any other communities in the U.S. that had a similar type of website that would allow people to search for activities by age or activity or location,” said Hewitt, “but couldn’t find anything to replicate. I really credit Colleen with being the brain child on this site.”
The home page features photos of young people engaged in various activities, with an emphasis on current activities. Other pages allow for a listing of one-time or ongoing events and summer camps. Also included is a search page that permits the user to only search for free activities, or to search for activities geared toward a certain age group or gender.
Andrew Dubay, an AmeriCorps member working at United Way, will maintain the site. Dubay said the success of the site will depend on community input.
Getting youth to like the site on Facebook is important, and getting the word out to parents and youth will be a challenge Hewitt anticipates.
“If anyone can get us some face time with youth or parents, let us know,” said Hewitt. “We really want to spread the word.”