While unable to gather in person due to COVID-19, Next Generation Youth Development in Dawsonville has come up with a variety of fun activities to keep local youth engaged, while still maintaining safe a distance.
Though originally started as a small mentoring program for kids in the local community, over the last two decades Next Generation (NxTG) has grown into an independent organization aimed at providing support for vulnerable youth through outreach, education and group activities at the NxTG clubhouse, where youth can come after school to interact with one another.
But with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, group gatherings have not been and the in-person clubhouse has been closed.
But according to Ellen Ward, program director for NxTG, that hasn’t stopped them from pursuing their mission to help youth in the local community.
“We’re a prevention clubhouse so we normally function after school hours, but when schools started shutting down we decided to take it virtual,” Ward said. “So shortly after school was canceled, we started thinking about how to make this work virtually so we could still reach our students.”
The group hosts a wide array of virtual activities, including family bingo nights, Dungeons and Dragons nights, game sessions technology lessons, watch parties, life skill and leadership courses. The response to these virtual activities has been positive from the youth involved in the clubhouse, according to Clubhouse Lead Sharon Sotelo.
“The response has been good and students have been connecting with us on a daily basis,” Sotelo said. “They’re excited, and I think that’s what they’re craving is to be in contact with other people, especially right now, and that’s what we’re there for is to be here for them during this time.”
Another way Next Generation has been striving to stay in contact with the students in the program is through mailing items to the youth.
“We’ve mailed out crafts to each of our kids, and then we have sessions where we say ‘okay at 3 on Monday we’re going to make this mask’, or ‘at 3 on Wednesday we’re going to do this paint by number’,” Ward said. “And we did the same thing with a book, so we had all the kids vote on different books that they were interested in reading and then we mailed them each a copy which we then read and discussed together.”
Mailing the items out to each individual student has been a laborious process, but one that has been worth it, according to Ward.
“We’re trying to not only show up for them digitally, but also send these little physical items they can use to connect with us,” Ward said. “And that’s a physical symbol of the fact that we’re here and reaching out to them.”
The idea of sending a physical reminder to the students also led to the creation of a project called “Apart But Not Alone”, which was designed in part by the students themselves.
“The youth came up with a design for a medallion that we 3D printed and sent to each of the youth,” Ward said. “But each medallion is in half, so a youth receives one hand and they’re supposed to connect with each other online to find the other half.”
This project brings the students together with one another, and according to Ward the organization plans on sending out more than one series of the 3D printed medallions in the future.
Sotelo said that Next Generation plans to keep at least some of the virtual pieces of the clubhouse, even after the in-person clubhouse is allowed to resume normal activities.
“We’re looking into keeping the virtual aspect of it, so we’ll have our physical clubhouse after school like we normally do but we’re also trying to keep the virtual aspect of it going as well,” Sotelo said. “So that’s exciting and awesome to look forward to.”
In the meantime, the group doesn’t plan on stopping their virtual clubhouse activities anytime soon.
“We don’t know how long we’re gonna be doing this cause so much is still up in the air with what school is going to look like when it goes back,” Ward said, “so right now we’re forging ahead, creating new crafts and coming up with a lot of new projects.”
The group is currently recruiting new members, and any youth age 11 to17. Parents interested in signing their child up for the clubhouse can reach out to the group to learn more about how to join.
“We’re not planning on stopping anytime soon with the virtual piece so we welcome folks to check us out, ask questions and get to know us better,” Ward said. “Check us out on social media, visit our new website, and contact us if you’re interested in learning more or learning how to get your youth enrolled.”
For more information about Next Generation, visit the group’s website at www.nxtgenerationga.org or by visiting them on Facebook at Next Generation Youth Development Inc. or on Twitter at nxtgyouth.