By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – Open Youth Night, a free quarterly event at the Downriver YMCA, 16777 Northline Road, offers tweens and teens food, fun, fellowship and a brief respite from their electronic online world.
Children in grades 6 to 12 may swim, use the climbing wall, and play basketball, volleyball and table tennis. Pizza and punch are on the menu, as are motivational speakers and prize give-aways.
Youth and family program manager Sharon Karpinski said it is important to offer activities for middle and high school-age children because there are limited community events for their age range.
“Children don’t seem to have as much of an opportunity to go out and do things in our community,” she said. “It’s the idea of getting them out of the street, doing something productive, having a good time, hanging out with their peers and some good role models, and having fun at the same time.”
She said the event is open to non-members because part of the YMCA’s mission is to strengthen the foundations of communities.
“We look for ways to build those opportunities and help out in any way that we can, to help youth go in the right direction,” Karpinski said.
Most parents choose to drop their children off at the door, but they may stay if they wish. YMCA staff supervise the event, and church groups who bring youth to the event provide adult chaperones.
She said that toward the end of the evening they offer guest speakers, who address character development topics.
“Most of it’s about making positive choices in their life in all different ways,” Karpinski said. “Steering them into not getting stuck into that peer pressure and going down the wrong path.”
She said YMCA members may be in the facility during Open Youth Night, but are generally not in the same area as the children.
Austin Karpinski, 15, of Southgate said it’s nice to meet and hang out with other people his age at Open Youth Nights.
“I see some people that I know, and this way I can meet more people and have more friends, and be connected with them,” he said.
Brandon Grubbe, 16, of Southgate was also looking forward to having fun, hanging out with friends and making new connections.
“It’s a time to get away from the house and release your mind,” Grubbe said.
Membership engagement specialist Shauna Norris said she believes giving children alternative things to do is very important.
“There are so many bad things going on, so to have something positive is just great,” she said. “I think it is great that they can interact and meet new people.”
She said the Y is a great place to be no matter what the weather, and it is a chance for the children to interact beyond phone and internet connections.
“It gives you something else to do,” Norris said, “and have communication instead of just looking down at your phone.”
Norris said the Youth Night is also a welcome break for parents.
“They looked really excited to drop them off today,” she said. “With this cold weather, it’s a great change of scenery.”
Karpinski said because Youth Nights offer so many opportunities, the YMCA annual campaign raises money from different sponsors to help cover the cost of the program.
“We felt that it was necessary to reach out to that age group especially,” she said, “and give them some better alternatives, to come out and have fun and just be in a good environment.”
The next Open Youth Night is 6 to 10 p.m. April 1. To register, contact Sharon Karpinski at 734-655-0345 or [email protected]
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])