Shining Stars Youth Program
7/1/2013 3:23 PM
Shining Stars Youth Program
One of the best ways to improve an individual’s economic future is through education. Additionally, managing one’s own economic security requires financial literacy and an ability to plan, budget and maintain employment. In a tight job market, relevant job-specific skills are important, but it is critical to be well-rounded, thoughtful and creative when responding to the kinds of complex problems that exist. But learning and integrating these skill sets requires modeling from an early age: knowing how to approach and dissect complex problems, communicating ideas effectively, working in a team and thinking abstractly to solve problems are all skills that take time to develop. Hope House’s Shining Stars program is one avenue that provides a means to develop these skills, as well as helping to hone the academic knowledge and diversity of experience for participants.
Begun in 1993, the Shining Stars Youth Program serves Milwaukee children ages 5 to 17 and is open to youth and teens throughout Milwaukee who qualify as low-income according to Federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines. The youth population is diverse, with participants ranging from current and former shelter guests, to neighborhood residents, to youth living throughout Milwaukee. The program runs year-round and works to improve to improve basic academic skills, enrich community and cultural awareness and diversify the educational experience for youth and teens. One of the aims of the Shining Stars program, according to Hope House Youth Services Supervisor Elizabeth Neuens, is to ”provide a safe space for them to be themselves”. This safe space allows youth to learn and explore, while empowering them to make positive, well-informed choices for themselves, their families and their communities.
During the school year, the Shining Stars exists primarily as an after-school program with tutoring services in the afternoon and workshops in the evening. The after-school program runs concurrently with the Milwaukee Public School year, with tutoring and workshops that are both thematic and academically focused. There are monthly academic goals for students of all levels; participating students also work with staff and develop individual learning plans and goals that meet their specific needs. Workshop activities are suited to a range of ages and foster development of technology literacy via Kindle reading programs and software training, cooking and healthy eating, bicycle maintenance, team-building through game play and connection to community though public events. The twice-weekly Teen Nights allows the older youth time to focus on addressing drug and alcohol avoidance, sexual health and safety, writing resumes and cover letters, interviewing skills, job professionalism, as well as financial literacy including budgeting and managing checking accounts. The teens also gain skills in managing projects, as they are tasked with planning at least four yearly community events, which have included community clean-ups, the Annual Planting Party, Annual Art Show, and Safety Dances planned for the younger youth on holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day.
During the summer, the programs run during the day and include a wide range of participatory clubs and activities, such as Bike Club and Garden Club. The Shining Stars also take many field trips to learn and gain exposure to the world outside a classroom and have fun; these can include fishing at Lake Shore Park, visiting Discovery World, playing in local parks and visiting swimming pools to cool off in the summer heat.
In serving the participating youth, the Shining Stars program provides a critical point of access for low-income youth who may not have the resources at home to engage in extra-curricular learning and exploration. These kinds of activities and programming provide critical exposure and an expanded perspective that can lead to a broader sense of what is possible for their futures, as well as means for building that future for themselves and their families. Youth Services Supervisor Elizabeth Neuens says it best when she notes, “I would have to say that I recognize [that] it is most worth it when teenagers are coming from the neighborhood and write about how important program is for them and it gives them something to do. A lot of them have told me what their alternatives are on the streets and they want to better themselves and see that happening through our program.”