Dozens of kids at an Eden Prairie low-income apartment complex are staying busy this summer, thanks to a new program.
At Briarhill Apartments, which houses mostly immigrants, many parents weren’t familiar with youth summer programs or, if they were, they got lost in the process of paperwork, online sign-ups and fees.
But now the city has found a solution: Bring a free summer program right to the kids.
In a new pilot program that started last week, city and YMCA organizers are providing free crafts, games and activities for kids at Briarhill this summer, eliminating barriers such as cost, technology and transportation issues that can prevent families from participating in city and YMCA programs.
“We’re trying to meet people where they’re at,” said Greg Hanks, executive director of the Southdale YMCA, which is putting on the program with a $6,000 grant from the city. “I hope we get more opportunities like this.”
It’s a first-of-its-kind program in Eden Prairie, but it’s part of a growing group of programs that the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is offering on-site at low-income apartments in suburbs such as Maplewood, Shoreview, North St. Paul and Oakdale. In Minnetonka, a city- and grant-funded program that started 14 years ago at Minnetonka Heights, a Section 8 apartment, now draws more than 100 kids.
In Eden Prairie, the pilot program is just beginning, drawing about 20 kids ranging from 5 to 12 years old at Briarhill, one of two Section 8 apartment complexes in the southwestern suburb. On Monday, kids squealed with excitement as they chased each other in a game of Capture the Flag at a nearby park while another group of kids played basketball before they all joined in on crafts and board games. With many Somali and Ethiopian refugee families who aren’t familiar with the YMCA, Hanks said he hopes the new program connects families to the organization and the city’s existing parks and recreation programs.
“The concept of parents dropping off their kids isn’t something they’re comfortable with,” added Patricia Fenrick, the city’s community services coordinator. “Like all American parents, you aren’t going to take your kids to people you don’t trust. This is a way to build trust.”
A social worker who worked in the community helped spread the word about the program door to door. The YMCA simplified its forms. And a $6,000 grant from the city funds materials and the YMCA’s on-site staff.
“I don’t think these kids get a lot of fun,” said 15-year-old Najma Hassan, who is volunteering to help YMCA staff while her younger brother and sister participate in the program. Her older brother attends basketball camp, but that’s not an option for her two younger siblings, she said. “It’s better for them because they’re not just sitting at home. It’s good to be outside.”
The program, which lasts until mid-August, runs for three hours in the afternoon three times a week so kids can still attend summer school. The program started after management at Briarhill contacted the city, seeing that many kids had nowhere to go during the summer. The city contacted the YMCA with a grant to fund the pilot program. If it’s successful, organizers say it could be expanded in the future to other apartments in Eden Prairie.
“We want to be responsive to the needs of our residents,” Fenrick said. “These kids miss out because the system doesn’t fit with where they are.”