POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. –A local non-profit serving over 75 inner city youth comes together in downtown Poughkeepsie to provide safe night of singing, dancing, sports, and activities.
The Poughkeepsie non-profit Youth Mission Outreach (YMO) holds a Youth Night every Friday from 5:00-8:30 p.m. for kids and teens located in and around Poughkeepsie. The program started in 1996 and has continued to serve the community every Friday of every season for 20 years.
“Since Friday night is the outreach program, every single Friday night our kids are different,” said Co-Coordinator Arlene Dyer. “We have our consistent 20-30 kids, but we see a lot of different faces that come in and out.”
Each Youth Night attracts between 50 and 100 people with participants ranging between four and 21 years old according to Dyer. Everyone who attends the free program gets to partake in safe, age appropriate activities and receives a hot meal and cold water.
“At Youth Night, it’s a recreational environment,” said Dyer. “The key is that everyone who walks through the door feels like they’re important and special and like they’re wanted at the program.”
Youth Night runs out of the Family Partnership Building in downtown Poughkeepsie and the coordinators set up a wide range of activities that suits each age group in attendance. This includes basketball, jump rope, puzzles, coloring, and a station to paint nails. Those involved with the organization also plan occasional nights out to places such as the Hyde Park Roller Rink.
The kids who attend choose to do so on their own. No one forces them to come; there is no parental sign-up sheet, or a service that picks them up and drives them to the program. Most of the kids that the program serves come from inner city Poughkeepsie and walk themselves to the program according to Dyer.
“The kids are there a half hour early for the programs,” said YMO volunteer Carlyn Crizcenzo. “They have a consistent figure in their life that they can look up to. They want to be there, it’s safe, fun, and it keeps them off the street on a Friday night.”
YMO is a faith based non-profit so the coordinators also include activities that focus on God’s message such as worship songs, dances, and an inspirational message that ties the night together.
“This meeting has allowed kids to come into a safe haven, and they’re coming to learn teachable moments,” said YMO Social Media Coordinator and Youth Night Co-Coordinator La’Ema Vanterpool.
The three coordinators and five to six volunteers work to fulfill the YMO motto: “Inspiring change through relationships.” This includes relationships between kids, coordinators, and the program itself. Focusing on building these bonds keeps the program’s attendance up and the impact lasting far past Friday nights.
“We call ourselves a family,” said Dyer. “So when they see each other at school, when they see each other walking home, at the corner store, they automatically have someone who they can relate to and say I know this person is watching out for me or this person cares about me.”
For Todd Snead, a Pastor at In Christ United Church, his time spent at Youth Night has had a long-lasting impact on his life. He attended Youth Night as a kid even though his mother tried to ban him. His mom eventually started volunteering at YMO and now, both of them continue to have a connection with the organization and Youth Night.
“Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am,” said Snead speaking about the impact of YMO.
YMO’s Youth Night is the one of the only free, consistent weekly program available to the kids and teens of Poughkeepsie. There is not a Boys and Girls Club or Big Brothers Big Sisters based in Poughkeepsie. The Poughkeepsie YMCA closed in 2009 due to lack of funding.
Other churches hold Youth Night’s, such as the Kimisis Greek Orthodox Church and the Poughkeepsie United Methodist Church, but they do not run on a weekly basis and provide meals for those in attendance. YMO Youth Night is the only consistent, free, non-church affiliated program within walking distant for kids living in the inner city of Poughkeepsie.
“You may not be safe in a lot of places,” said Co-Coordinator Pastor Nancy Desole. “You’re not always safe is school anymore unfortunately, you’re not safe on the street, you may not even be safe in your home, but this place, we want it to be safe.”
These programs are necessary in cities like Poughkeepsie where the opportunities to be affected by or become involved with unsafe situations are plentiful. The total index crimes falling under the violence and property categories reported in Poughkeepsie as of March 16, 2016 increased 3.6 percent from the rate in March 2015 according to the New York State Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) Initiative Crime, Arrest, and Firearm Activity Report.
This includes a 28.6 percent increase in violent crimes from March 2015 to March 2016. There was also a 15.4 percent increase from 2014-2015 in shootings resulting in injury, and a 7.1 percent increase in victims hit in said shootings.
“We encourage them to…get involved in their gifts so they stay focused so they don’t get involved with risky behaviors,” said Vanterpool.
The Youth Night staff has implemented a driving service to take kids home at night as a way to build upon the safe environment they have created. This ensures that the kids are not walking through Poughkeepsie in the dark and lowers their chances of being affected by any crime, violence, or other unsafe activities that may be happening in the area.
The Youth Night focus on providing a safe, positive environment for kids and teens has greatly paid off. The coordinators are now seeing second and third generation kids attending a program their parents grew up with.
“We’re doing everything we can to preserve the next generation to be better people and for them to walk into what their purpose is whether it’s an athlete [or] the next president of the United States,” said Vanterpool. “These kids have dreams and visions and we want to support them in that.”
Accompanying Broadcast Package.