Partway through the fall semester of school, Next Generation Youth Development into Dawson has been hard at work serving local teens with its virtual after-school programs, as well as adding new ways to reach out to more youth in the community.
Ellen Ward, programs director for Next Generation, said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic the after-school “clubhouse” activities have been completely virtual and have been operating under adjusted hours in order to accommodate both the students attending school in person and those attending school online.
“We still are totally virtual right now, so we’re on the discord platform but we offer daily activities for kids to log on,” Ward said. “We’ve adjusted our hours so that if you’re getting home and getting off the bus you can get on with us, but if you’ve done your school virtually you can join us in the afternoons or evenings for various activities. We have hours that we think are more accommodating to youth regardless of what their school situation is right now.”
According to Ward, there have been several new additions to the virtual clubhouse since the beginning of the school year, including a masterclass series and an updated website.
“We are showing a masterclass series for the youth, so weekly we will show a video series or a couple videos of a series on a topic,” Ward said. “Right now we’ve chosen Gordon Ramsey teaching a cooking class, so they picked that out of a catalog and that’s been really exciting and very intriguing — I’ve learned a lot of things myself!”
The website has also been updated to allow for further community outreach, making it easier for parents and youth not signed up with the program to see what it’s all about.
“We’re updating our website as well by putting flyers and our student calendars,” Clubhouse Lead Sharon Sotelo said. “That way people that aren’t part of the program can kind of see what we’re doing and everything we have going on.”
The organization also started accepting youth from surrounding counties, not just Dawson County.
"We’re accepting kids from surrounding counties, so they don’t have to be a Dawson County youth and they don’t have to go to Dawson County Schools,” Ward said. “They can be homeschooled or private schooled as well.”
Since becoming virtual, the clubhouse has delivered crafts and books to the youth in the program, hosted virtual BINGO nights with electronic gift card prizes, and offered several other online activities. The organization also offers virtual homework help to youth through a partnership with the University of North Georgia.
“UNG sends us interns who come and fulfill their education credit hours with us, so now youth are able to get on if they need assistance with homework and we set them up with a staff member and an intern on a virtual call for them to get tutoring,” Ward said. “The interns also participate with us in the activities as well so the youth get to know them and build this mentor-type relationship with someone in secondary education, and that’s cool for them to get that perspective of what it’s like to be in college.”
The clubhouse is geared toward youth from age 11 to 17 who are local to the area and seeking something to do after school and a place to plug in, and the new website update makes it easy to sign up, according to Ward.
“ They’re still welcome to contact us or email us, but if they’re interested in what we have going on they can simply go to the website and fill out an interest form with just some basic information which makes getting them enrolled much easier,” Ward said.
For more information about Next Generation, what the group does and how to sign up for the virtual clubhouse, visit https://www.nxtgenerationga.org/.