By Gina Valencia | Photos Courtesy of the YMCA
Get Out and Play! As mind blowing and fascinating as social media and the internet can be, it’s time for teens to put their screens down and get outside! With so many ways to connect to others, teens have opportunities to not just find a new interesting hobby or event, but a chance to really make an impact in their community and their own future. At the very least, they can have some fun!
There’s a Place You Can Go
Hey teens! Want to improve your public speaking and leadership skills? Ever wonder about a media reporter’s role in politics? Or want to become money savvy?
Aside from the ability to grow physically stronger through exercise at their state-of-the-art gym, teens can also expand their knowledge of the real world at the Lakewood Family YMCA.
The Y, which is part of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Association, offers some amazing programs and fun events for teens.
The Future of Politics
Youth & Government is a nationally recognized “6-month (September-February) hands-on program that provides participants (called deleBy Gina Valencia | Photos Courtesy of the YMCA gates) with an opportunity to develop leadership and public speaking skills through the process of learning how our state legislature and courts work,” said Aiko Lopez, Youth Development Coordinator at the Y.
“The offerings range from Legislative Houses where they learn about bill development and parliamentary procedure to Media Corps where delegates can explore journalism’s role in politics.”
Delegates meet weekly throughout the 6-months to work on assignments and group projects, as well, as attend two conferences; the second of which is held in Sacramento where they present their final project, and get the chance to occupy the Senate and Assembly floors in the State Capitol building.
One recent delegate was Aspen, a high school senior from Lakewood.
“I had seen flyers in the YMCA and thought it was worth a shot to get involved and meet new people,” Aspen said.
Through her involvement with the Y&G program, Aspen attended a leadership conference at San Miguel’s Camp Roberts.
“I have learned that being open minded is a great way to solve issues, and the many team building activities are engaging and fun,” Aspen said.
Which is exactly the aim of such a program, Aiko points out. “This program encourages civic engagement and provides an opportunity for networking with peers of similar ages from across the state who may have similar or opposing political views and challenges in life,” Aiko said.
But what’s a conference without some networking fun? Most conference evenings would end with karaoke, board games, a dance, or a room full of bounce houses and obstacle courses.
On average, the three branches of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Association (Lakewood, Los Altos, and Fairfield locations) have about 50 delegates representing Long Beach.
Teens Just Wanna Have Fun
The Y also hosts events just for the fun of it! During the pandemic, the Y had an increase of teen members “and as a response we wanted to provide more activities for them to engage in, hoping to provide an outlet for socialization that was missing during the pandemic,” Aiko said.
The events are geared towards teen members 13-17 who can invite a non-member guest each time. In April, the Y offered extended Friday night “after-hours” teen workouts with music and snacks. Attendees were allowed the use of workout equipment and the basketball gym. About 65 teens turned up and the response was so positive, the Y began a monthly pool party June-August. It was held after-hours again with food and music. They ended summer with a Flick and Float pool party where they projected a movie near the pool.
Participation at all events ranged from about 27 to 50 teens, and feedback from both the teens and their parents has been so great, Aiko hopes to continue the momentum with more monthly events.
“We have a member on the (autism) spectrum who attended all pool parties and got to socialize with others,” Aiko said. “His parents were really happy about it.”
Another helpful program Aiko has hosted was a series of financial literacy seminars. Many of the participants from this series learned about the Youth & Government program and decided to give it a try.
“Y&G participants tend to be shy at first but by the end of the program year, they develop a new sense of self-esteem which is clearly noticeable in their interactions with others,” Aiko said. Aspen agrees.
“I would advise a teen who’s never been to an event or participated to not be afraid to put yourself out there [because] just as you might be scared, others will be too,” Aspen said.
Besides these interesting and fun events, the Y currently offers a swim team, gymnastics and teen sports. While there are perks to being a member, most programs do not require membership.
“These events and programs are great because they can turn the shy person into a bubbly social person,” Aspen said. “You also learn a lot about the program you involve yourself in and it may help you later on in life.”
The opportunities available through organizations such as the YMCA, are designed to encourage the natural curiosity and need for community within the teen years, and guide them in a positive, encouraging way, while providing experiences they could include on future college and job applications.
LAKEWOOD FAMILY YMCA
5835 E. Carson St. Lakewood, CA 90713
Other Teen-Geared Programs to Check Out:
• Local libraries: www.longbeach.gov/library: Click on Learn, click on Teens@LBPL. Find groups and events including YA book clubs, volunteer opportunities, movie days, teen café hangouts, arts & crafts, college application help, teen advisory group, and more!
• Parks & Rec Department: www.longbeach.gov/park: Click on Recreation Programs, click on teen programs. Information on local teen centers, volunteer opportunities, teen academy workshops, and more!