Next Generation (NxTG) held an open house for their Prevention Clubhouse Monday afternoon which provided an opportunity for kids and parents to tour the clubhouse and its innovative labs and meet with the staff.
“[The open house] is to give tours to parents who are interested, assist with help filling out our application, answer any lingering questions people might have,” said Programs Coordinator Ellen Ward. “It gives people a chance to come in and see it because you kind of have to see it to believe it. It’s a chance for people to learn more about who we are.”
What began as a small mentoring program 20 years ago has grown into an independent non-profit organization serving the youth of Dawson County – and potentially Lumpkin County as well.
Currently, the NxTG Clubhouse serves teens in grades 7-12. It is one of only three prevention clubhouses funded by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities in Georgia.
Ward, who began working at NxTG in 2013, said there were no students when she first arrived.
“I’ve been here since like the beginning on the very first day of having kids. It’s been awesome to see it evolve,” Ward said.
NxTG believes that all youth should have equal access and opportunities to reach their full potential and is committed to providing opportunities for vulnerable youth in the community. The Clubhouse integrates an established prevention curriculum with STEaM in the hopes of increasing the youth’s ability to navigate the growing global community with important 21st century skills.
The Clubhouse has three sessions per year. Ward aims to have 25 kids per session, having 75 total kids for the year. The open house was an opportunity for parents and interested kids to sign up for the second session, which begins in December and lasts until March.
Tinkering away with a 3D bracelet he made, Jacob Goodwin, 16, provided a teen’s insight into the programs offered at the Clubhouse during the Nov. 27 open house.
“It’s just things you don’t learn or you’re not taught often,” said Goodwin.
Unlike traditional school classes, at the Clubhouse, Jacob is learning 3D printing, coding, circuitry, robotics and more. His favorite part of the program has been the amount he’s learned compared to going to school.
Goodwin said he has been coming to the clubhouse since 8th grade. Now a sophomore, he has become one of the clubhouse’s senior student leaders.
Goodwin said that he “used to be an angry child” and was always taken to in-school suspension in elementary school.
“Now, we don’t have to worry about ISS,” he said.
Executive Director Bindy Auvermann said Goodwin has really grown through the program. He is now on the Dawson County High School cross country team and has a part time job.
While many youth programs have traditionally focused on what’s ‘wrong’ and work to fix students, NxTG say they take a different approach by focusing what’s ‘next’ for students.
“[These students] just need somebody to listen and pat you on the back and say ‘good job,’” said Auvermann.
At the Clubhouse, kids are encouraged to think beyond their limitations through utilizing tools and resources that prepare them for brighter futures.
Auvermann and Ward strongly believe in the E3 formula, which stands for Experience, Engage and Empower, as is reflected in the numerous activities offered.
From creative and engaging activities, outdoor games, virtual field trips, group projects and community service, thought-provoking discussions from daily video clips and stress and anxiety coping techniques, NxTG provides a well-rounded and fun curriculum for at-risk kids.
“We make sure that there is something here for everybody,” Auvermann said.
The Clubhouse is divided into two sections: the Tinker Lab provides curricula in coding, robotics, circuitry and 3D printing, while the Mind Lab focuses on students’ mental health by providing guided meditations, breathing exercises and other activities aimed to promote a healthy lifestyle. There is even an emphasis on expression through art as kids have made water color paintings and music.
“Each group is different so we cater to each. Some are more interested in art and others more interested in technology so we focus on the needs and interests of the group,” said Ward.
NxTG also teaches cultural lessons, most recently a study in Japanese history and cultural where students made 3D printed wooden blocks, crafted Bunraku puppets via the help of masters at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, as well as learned how to eat with chopsticks to savor Japanese cuisine. It is all part of NxTG’s goal to engage their youth in the global community.
The Clubhouse isn’t only fun for the kids. The staff are excited to return to work every day because they are passionate about what they do and care about the kids.
“I never know what’s going to happen. No day is predictable and I love that,” said Ward. “You never know who’s going to come, what kind of interests they’re going to have.”
Sharon Sotelo, the Clubhouse Lead, began working at NxTG nearly two years ago and says she never wants to leave the clubhouse.
“I love being with the kids. I’m so passionate about them,” said Sotelo. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than be here. I love this place.”
Ward takes pride in the success of kids who have graduated from the program and says the best part about her job is seeing the lasting effects of her work long after they’ve graduated.
“I’ve seen students who come in who are very reserved, very shy, not interested in making any friends, not even really sure that they wanted to be here go from that - and in a remarkably short time – to not only opening up and making friends but being leaders and showing reflections of the future adults that they are going to be,” said Ward.
NxTG is constantly growing and Auvermann is excited about the prospect of expanding to the Lumpkin County youth in the near future.
When Auvermann first started at NxTG, she remembers being told parents wouldn’t be involved, but that has not been her experience. According to Auvermann, parents want to go on social outings with their kids and want what’s best for them.
There has also been a lot of volunteer support from local college students. Students from UNG in particular volunteer to tutor kids and help with homework. NxTG has also had up to 18 interns at one time.
“I like to know that this is changing because even if other things in the county don’t change or progress this does,” said Auvermann. “The kids don’t stand still. They progress so somebody has to so I like that to be us.”
NxTG is open 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is free for eligible families.
It is located at 462 Memory Lane Suite 160 in downtown Dawsonville.
Kids do not need to be in public school to join, and must be between the ages of 12 and 17.
For more information, call (706)429-0110 or visit http://nxtgenerationga.org.