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Yorkville Summer Kick-Off

By Jackie Bong-Wright

A Family Affair

“How do you spell ‘library’,” clown Ronald McDonald asked two kids, one from Somalia and the other from Mexico. “I am going to read you a story and you raise your hands and stomp your feet and imitate the thunder with a big ‘boom,’ OK? Everyone, make the sound of the wind. Blow a long ‘pschiii’ and wave your hands up and down and around.” Hai Nguyen, six, and his father from Vietnam, played along with full attention, waving and stomping.
Along with 25 others ranging from six months to 16 years, the children at the Yorkville Cooperative housing complex in Fairfax learned something positive in a fun-filled atmosphere with clown McDonald — something other than the fighting, drinking and smoking parents want their teenagers to avoid.
After half-an-hour of the McDonald’s learning curve, the children joined 35 others in the playground nearby. There, Danielle Kar, 21, a volunteer, along with five other social work students from George Mason University, painted faces for girls and monitored games for boys. The children ran around, bounced up and down on inflatable jumpers, tossed rings, bowled and played soccer, not forgetting to eat pizza and drink juice in between their calorie-burning activities. Under the supervision of 20 Fairfax County staff and volunteers, all had a ball. A fire truck was also parked in front of the Yorkville Community office to familiarize residents in what to do in case of emergency.

Services for all ages

Dorothy Keenan, a supervisor in the Fairfax County Community and Recreation Services (CRS), said this was an inter-agency effort to partner with private organizations in providing services for residents. Yorkville was chosen to start a “Summer Kick-Off.” Invitations in multiple languages were sent out to 236 ethnic families, totaling 1,500 people, to come and learn diverse services the county offers. A number of programs for youth, adults and seniors were highlighted. Brochures with contact numbers and other information were tucked inside give-away bags handed to parents, who were asked to volunteer their time and bring their children to these summer programs.
Representatives from various agencies set up stalls and explained in detail the services they provided to Yorkville apartment residents. Ibrahim Mohamed, coordinator of Service Planning at Systems Management, said qualified residents could get food, housing, transportation, health care, legal and financial assistance, employment and training at different agencies.
In the next booth, Korean-born Wang Bang, a staff member of the Park Authority, explained that her agency’s programs promoted good character through recreation. She mentioned that scholarships and free admission for the needy were offered at eight recreational centers and various schools. She said June-to-August summer camps for 11-14 year-olds included rock climbing, kayaking, and water rafting at Kings Dominion and Six Flags.
Ngoc Le, a 14-year old Vietnamese girl, signed up with Wang to take part in the newly-formed soccer team at Yorkville. Kurdish and Hispanic boys were interested in following suit.
Clyde Jackson, head of Fairfax 4-H, and three of his staff also offered a four-day a week summer camp for children from 9 to 13 in Front Royal, Virginia. They take part in swimming, arts and crafts, martial arts, sports, and painting. They are also taught public speaking and leadership skills. He said that 4-H focuses on the individual’s social, spiritual. mental and physical development.
Next to Jackson, Paulette Armstrong said that she supervises eight of the 15 Computer Learning Centers Partnership (CLCP) located in housing developments, neighborhood centers, schools and churches. “It is a public-private partnership designed to bring business, philanthropic, and government resources together to bridge the digital divide.
“Since 1995, approximately 5,000 underserved children and their families have been trained in computer literacy, and 2,000 are currently enrolled in the program, mostly after school hours,” Armstrong went on. The program at Yorkville includes technology and English instruction, homework assistance, and reading as well as enrichment activities and field trips. These are to ensure the development of the whole child. Omar Osman is in charge of teaching at Yorkville.
Another component of Partnership is Project Discovery. It encourages students to achieve educational excellence and pursue a college education. Youths who are often the first in their families to attend college are given the tools to excel in their studies.
Exclaimed Paulette proudly, “CLCP has received state and national awards for innovative programs that have had a positive effect on children and youth.”
Doug Taggart, outreach coordinator of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, said that he was setting up a two-day gang-prevention program at Yorkville. The curriculum is set up to appeal to ages 8 to 18, and includes health and life skills in how to avoid drugs and alcohol. It includes excercises and field trips as well as tutoring in math and science.
Representatives from the Health Departments, Family Services, and the Newcomer Service explained the programs available for parents and seniors.
The big question for Yorkville residents is how parents can be motivated and help their children take advantage of the vast number of services Fairfax County provides.