Youth Wellness Program for Refugees and Immigrants

by Village Exchange Center
Youth Wellness Program for Refugees and Immigrants
Village Summer Camp 2021
Village Summer Camp 2021

The Village Exchange Center's youth programs have a wonderful summer to look back on, and a bright fall/winter season ahead. 

This summer, nearly 70 Campers (ages 9-14) joined VEC staff, counselors, and volunteers for six weeks of Village Youth Summer Camps.  Whether at our Village Farm at Stanley Marketplace, at our Center, or around town for camp field trips, refugee youth mixed with American-born students to explore a variety of activities and pursuits throughout June and July.  These included: farm skills and seed planting, local ecology, healthy lifestyles, teamwork and sportsmanship, woodworking, robotics, STEM concepts, archery, horse care, equestrian basics, and a whole lot of games!  Some students had their very first experience riding a horse, performing on stage, or lounging at the swimming pool -- and everyone made some new friends!

Our standout week in June had campers join VEC staff and guest speakers for our very first Village BIPOC Theater Camp. Students learned stagecraft and scene work in our new theater space, but also lessons on diversity in the arts, advocacy, the power of student voices, and how they will change the industry and the world.  This inspiring group of kids connected with several local artists and professionals - special thanks to our speakers and teachers, including Lisa Young of IDEA Stages, theater educator and local performer Ilasiea Gray, and the Aurora Fox Theater staff.  Students had a great talent showcase at the end of camp, and we look forward to doing more theater programs this fall!

Village Youth has been blessed to have some wonderful partners in the community, including Scouts of America, Factory Five Five, The Urban Farm, City of Aurora's Generation Wild, and the aforementioned Aurora Fox Theater. 

A new partnership from this fall has been Schomp Subaru in Aurora.  In August, Schomp worked with youth program manager Austin Lazek and the marketing team from Eclectic Activation to create (and fund) a youth soccer team.  And with some help from and the Colorado Soccer Foundation, we held a wonderful kickoff scrimmage event in August at Soccer City.  This team gives local kids an opportunity to work and compete together, and we are currently looking for indoor scrimmage and tournament opportunities.  Also, through Schomp we were able to link up with Broncos MVP Von Mille for their September event, during which we were able to get some of our youth eye exams and glasses through Von's charity, Von's Vision. 

Village Youth continued to build its team of volunteers and counselors this summer, and we are looking to re-engage our student volunteers at Regis Jesuit High School, who will gain service hours while also bringing additional academic support for our kids this fall. Not to be left out, our recent Natural Leaders graduates joined our team of camp counselors this summer, and we are planning a new Natural Leaders cohort to begin this October with students attending Aurora West. With this support, our youth programs continue to build relationships with schools and young leaders throughout Aurora.

In fact, thanks to a recent award from Caring for Colorado’s Together We Protect grant, we will be starting a new Vaccine Equity Outreach Program with our youth this fall.  Partnering with 9Health and the VEC team with our own weekly vaccine clinics, we plan to enlist local youth (and some of our own Natural Leaders) to design a creative outreach campaign aimed at educating their peers and personal networks to encourage further vaccine outreach.  We will train a street team, hold events, and create an incentive plan to help get more people vaccinated throughout the winter. 

It's been a challenging past year, and we look to the months ahead with a growth mindset. As we expand our team, our operations, and the scope of our facilities, VEC will continue to provide its neighborhood youth a fun, safe place to go and learn. This fall and winter, we are providing more mini-camps, a space for theater enrichment, and a space for students to receive academic support, social-emotional coaching, and healthy snacks.

So proud of all we've accomplished - so much to look forward to!

Village Soccer Team
Village Soccer Team
Kids in the creek
Kids in the creek
Summer Camp 2021 by the numbers
Summer Camp 2021 by the numbers
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The Village Exchange Center's youth programs had a terrific spring term, despite ongoing delays and shutdowns across the city.  Students attended classes on a hybrid model and were able to meet afterschool and on weekends for some awesome youth programming at VEC.  We have grown our efforts to reach more kids, more schools, and more families, and we are currently in the thick of our summer programming.

This spring our youth didn't stop exploring, making trips to local parks, pools, bookstores, the Denver Aquarium, and the Urban Air jump center.  Our team continues to partner with the City of Aurora Parks and Open Spaces and Generation Wild.  To date we have gone hiking in Boulder, kayaking at the Aurora Reservoir, and just last week joined our partner, The Urban Farm in Denver, to learn about equestrian care for a week long camp.  So great to be outside!

In March, our kids joined Factory Five Five (and the Neighborhood Music School at Stanley) to learn about filmmaking. This mini-camp taught storytelling, project management, and video composition skills, and will serve as a model for seasons ahead when we bring more week-long programming to our kids.  No matter the creative activity we present, our students focus on collaborating and supporting each other.  Our partnerships and collective mission ensure that our youth continue to grow creatively, socially and academically. 

June has seen our Village Summer Camps get off to a great start.  We have already journeyed to the Village Farm, planting seeds for the season, learning about local ecology, healthy lifestyles, and playing tons of sports and games.  Our campers also joined VEC staff and guest speakers at our very first Village Theater Camp in our new theater space.  Students learned stagecraft and scenework, but also lessons on diversity in the arts, advocacy, the power of student voices, and how they will change the industry and the world.  Very inspiring group!  (Special thanks to our speakers and teachers, including Lisa Young of IDEA Stages, Ilasiea Gray, and the Aurora Fox Theater staff.)  The weeks ahead will hold lessons in STEM, carpentry, agriculture, and teamwork, with two more weeks of summer camp coming in July. 

As for our wonderful helpers, Village Youth continues to build its team of volunteers and counselors. We worked this spring with students attending Regis Jesuit High School, who brought additional academic support for our kids.  Not be left out, our recent Natural Leaders graduates also joined our team of camp counselors this summer.  With this support, our programs continue to build relationships with schools and young leaders throughout Aurora.

It's been a challenging past year, and we look to the months ahead with brave optimism.   As we expand our team, our operations, and the scope of our facilities, VEC will continue to provide its neighborhood youth a fun, safe place to go each day.  This fall, we look to providing more mini-camps and a space for students to recevie academic support, social-emotional coaching, and healthy snacks.  We will also be partnering with Schomp Subaru and the Colorado Soccer Foundation to form a youth soccer team.  This team will give local kids an opportunity to work and compete together.  Stay tuned for more details about our event in August!

So proud of all we've accomplished - so much to look forward to!

 

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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
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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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Intergenerational Farming
Intergenerational Farming

This has been an unprescedented time for all of us and in addition to the disproportionate impact of COVID 19 on underserved populations, the youth may be the least equipped to handle the isolation and ramifications of this pandemic. 

At Village Exchange Center we recognize these inequities and have decided to launch the VIllage Farms at Stanley Marketplace and our Village Summer Camps.  This is a wellness social enterprise that will serve VEC’s mission by bridging community silos between the various socioeconomic communities in Northwest Aurora and Northeast Denver. We do this through growing food, cooking, eating, and celebrating our diversity of cultural, culinary, and agricultural practices. 

We believe food has the power to transcend all cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic differences and bring us together. This project stems directly from the community-identified need to create economic opportunities in the agricultural field while also providing food access. 

In just two months we have built out 16, fifty foot farm beds and a pumpkin patch and Monday are launching our Village Summer Camps. This camp will run for 4 weeks throughout July and is an effort to create equity for our youth by providing free access to the camps in a COVID 19 conscious outdoor environment. We provide extensive farming and sports programs and free lunch from 9am to 2pm. 

Please consider sponsoring this intergenerational social enterprise and our youth through the following opportunities:  

            Community Gardens Sponsorship

    • Raised Beds ($7,000 each) – branding rights on the North and South sides of the beds (50 ft long).
    • Modular training and event facilities ($30,000)
    • Hydroponic farming containers ($65,000 each)

    Summer Camp Program Sponsorship

    • Sponsor an APS ACTION Zone Camper ($350/week)
    • Program materials for educational activities and camper safety (contact us for a complete wish list)

    Vocational Apprenticeship Sponsorship

    • Employment opportunities in agriculture or culinary industry for apprentices
    • 1 month of training for a farmer apprentice ($1000)

Thank you for following this project and being an important part of our community! 

Guardian Fox Living on our Farm
Guardian Fox Living on our Farm

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Organization Information

Village Exchange Center

Location: Aurora, CO - USA
Website:
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Village Exchange Center
Amy Buchanan
Project Leader:
Amy Buchanan
Aurora, CO United States

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