Mar 2, 2021

Never a Dull Day Here!

Pool time at the rec center!
Pool time at the rec center!

The Village Exchange Center Village Youth Club returns for a new year of fun learning and adventures with our community's youth.  In spite of the pandemic, this program has been able to safely meet in person following our careful protocols.  Our cohort of almost 20 youth has made excursions to Moorhead Recreation Center for swimming, local parks for outdoor fun, and the Denver Art Museum. We even hosted a very popular movie night at VEC to celebrate the holidays in December. 

Austin and the youth team continue to partner with the City of Aurora Parks and Open Spaces and Generation Wild and we are planning both outdoor excursions and camps for spring and summer.  We are especially excited for a filmmaking camp we are hosting on-site in March. The mini-camp will teach students filmmaking in partnership with the Neighborhood Music School. No matter what creative activity we are engaged in, the core of the program remains the students coming together to support each other and find outlets at our Center. Our partnerships and enthusiasm ensure that our youth continue to grow creatively, socially and academically. 

Looking ahead to summer, the Village Youth are planning on working on the farm projects at our Village Farm at Stanley. Here, they will learn hands-on skills related to carpentry and agriculture as well as engage in sports and STEM activities. Additionally, they will have expanded opportunities to learn about filmmaking, theater, and even equestrian care at our partner, The Urban Farm in Denver. 

VEC Youth Club continues to build its team of volunteers, working this spring with students at Regis Jesuit High School.  With this support, the program grows its aims to offer academic support and mentoring throughout the week. 

Students from our surrounding neighborhood in northwest Aurora attend this program Monday through Thursday afternoons from 3-6pm. Each afternoon we spend some of our time together offering academic support in reading and provide tutoring as well. We hope this fills in the gaps in online learning. Students attend local schools, including Crawford Elementary, North Middle School, Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, or Aurora Central.  They continue to attend school on a hybrid schedule.  


It's been a challenging time, but VEC continues to provide its neighborhood youth a fun, safe place to go each day. Here, they receive healthy snacks, play sports, spend time with their peers in person, and learn something new from mentors and coaches. Perhaps most importantly during this time of tremendous isolation and stress, our youth form part of a community of peers that are supportive and engaged with each other.

Watching Amanda Gorman rock the nation with poetry
Watching Amanda Gorman rock the nation with poetry
Feb 2, 2021

Reflecting on 2020 and Looking Ahead

Our Natural Helpers Brave the Cold for the Pantry
Our Natural Helpers Brave the Cold for the Pantry

2020 was an extraordinary year for VEC. Like so many others, VEC began January with a clear vision for programming, fundraising, and organizational development. Within a few months, we pivoted in response to the pandemic, placing some programs on hiatus while we scaled others to meet our communities’ growing needs. Understanding the direct and almost immediate impact of the pandemic on the most marginalized—who were among the first to experience reduced work hours and job loss—VEC never shut its doors.

Within the confines of Covid, we centered our 2020 work on several programs as we upgraded our security measures, brought on needed staff, and built out our beautiful performance space. An abbreviated list of programs:

1) Village Pantry: VEC recruited new volunteers, secured new funders and partners, developed best practices, built needed infrastructure, and organized the complex logistics of food delivery, storage, and distribution. Despite the many challenges of operating such a program during a pandemic, the Pantry delivered over 450,137 pounds of food and 18,904 dignity packages. We served 6,740 individuals representing 28 countries of origin, including the U.S.

2) Village Farm: Seeking to empower our communities, we knew handing out food was no solution to the food desert that is Northwest Aurora. VEC signed a 20-year lease on an acre of land next to the Stanley Marketplace and in 2020 hired and trained 10 community members to work with our Farm Manager to build 16 50-foot raised garden beds. We distributed over 1,650 pounds of organic produce.

3) Natural Helpers: The pandemic interrupted our ninth cohort of this leadership training program for adults, but our new hybrid/dual language training in October graduated 29 adults representing ten countries of origin. Our Natural Helpers quickly went to work distributing food at the Village Pantry, screening individuals for the Left Behind Workers Fund, and conducting Census outreach.

We will continue to grow our programs and services in 2021 to help our immigrant and refugee communities to overcome barriers. Our vision centers on fostering self-sufficiency, supporting social wellness and health equity, and empowering faith and cultural engagement. We want Aurora's immigrant and refugee populations to feel empowered to use their strengths and unique perspectives to enrich the city's diverse and inclusive community.

In 2021, we will build out our Village Farm to expand productivity and diversify our crops. We are also hoping our new Village Theater program can get started this summer, provided Covid numbers decline. Next week, we are launching a new fund to support low-income workers who test positive for Covid and need to self-quarantine. This program is currently only available for Adams County residents, but we hope to expand it after the pilot phase. These are just a few of our 2021 plans. To learn more, go to our website our reach out to our Communications Manager and we can add you to the mailing list for our monthly electronic newsletter: martina@villageexchangecenter.org.

We are grateful to our donors for their faith in the Village Exchange Center and look forward to a year of abundance for all! Please get in touch with us directly to receive our monthly newsletter, and follow us on social media to learn about our progress in 2021.

Spring on the Village Farm
Spring on the Village Farm
Some of our Village Pantry Volunteers
Some of our Village Pantry Volunteers

Links:

Oct 30, 2020

Still Going Strong in Aurora, CO!

The Village Exchange Center Village Youth Club is back in action this fall after being shut down by the pandemic last spring.  Not without challenges, the program has been getting back on its feet with recent additions to the team: Austin Lazek (our new Youth Program Manager) and Alex Rios Muñoz (Program Assistant). Our team fosters student safety by checking temperatures, ensuring students wear masks and stay socially distant, and updating students on best health practices.
 
In the midst of lingering shutdowns, Austin has worked to partner with neighboring organizations, including Stanley Marketplace, where students will learn theater arts and musical performance basics; the City of Aurora Parks and Open Spaces, where students participate in urban farming, nature hikes, and outings; and the Christian Family Community Martial Arts (CFCMA), which will teach Tae Kwon Do.  Early next year shows promise as well. Our kids will learn hands-on about equestrian care, how to ride a horse, and farm operations (livestock, gardening, etc.) at The Urban Farm, a new partnership. 
 
VEC Youth Club also focuses on academic support and mentoring. Students from the surrounding neighborhood in northwest Aurora attend this program Monday through Thursday afternoons from 3-6pm. Each afternoon we spend some of our time together offering academic support in reading and provide tutoring as well. We hope this fills in the gaps in online learning. Students attend local schools, includin Crawford Elementary, Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, or Aurora Central and have been adjusting to online learning and a remote in-person hybrid school model this term. It's been a challenging time, but VEC continues to provide its neighborhood youth a fun, safe place to go each day. Here, they receive a snack, run around, and learn something new from mentors and coaches. Perhaps most importantly during this time of tremendous isolation and stress, our youth form part of a community of peers that are supportive and engaged with each other.
 
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