It’s hard to believe that our summer teen and youth programming has come to a close. It’s been amazing to have the energy and voices of our young people back inside our building.

To get there, West End House staff members had to invest extensive time in understanding and implementing extensive guidance from state health officials, to ensure that the program could operate safely. Every aspect of the day had to be considered, from the size of groups and need to establish small group “pods” to redesigning favorite activities to accommodate physical distancing.

To include as many youth as possible while reducing the number of people in the building at one time, two groups of young people joined us on site on alternating days of the week, with everyone logging in virtually on their off days and on Friday.

All of these measures truly paid off, creating a program that truly embodied the spirit of collective care. All of our youth and teens embraced the challenge of adapting to new ways of doing things.

Although we could not gather for family-style meals in our games rooms, our peer leaders (older teens hired as paid interns) prepared fresh, individually-wrapped meals like chicken parmigiana sandwiches, homemade pesto pasta salad with shrimp, and oat milk fruit smoothies. For a special treat, they piped home-made filling into cannoli shells, decorating each one with colorful sprinkles.

Socially-distanced swim time and water balloon wars provided some needed normalcy — and a refreshing retreat from the hottest days of summer. And masks didn’t deter them from physical fitness activities, whether outdoor sports and games or yoga classes in the gym.

A special highlight of the summer was our partnership with Elevate Youth, a program dedicated to youth engagement with the natural world.  While in past years, we would have taken field trips to a larger park or nature preserve, nearby Ringer Park still offered opportunities to interact with wildlife in our own backyard. Young people really enjoyed birdwatching, invasive species identification, and learning about local ecosystems.

On the days when programming took place online, we offered a mix of sessions that integrated aspects of Visual and Performing Arts, STEM, community time and games. Every Friday, “Virtual Assembly” featured recognitions for the week along with some silliness including Zoom electric slide.

Through our ongoing partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, youth were provided with art materials on their days at the club that they could bring home for art workshops on their virtual programming days. Our teen group also had the chance to explore audio and visual media with professionals from the field including a podcasting workshop with Los Angeles Music Producer Nick Tetrault (himself a former staff member) and discussion of movie-making with Indie Filmmakers Nerissa Williams and Asher Coffield.

Although things have been different this summer, we continue to persevere in our mission, to make the most of things and keep having fun.