Pierson middle and high school kids engage in a multitude of activities on a typical day at the after-school program at the Youth Resource Center of Sag Harbor. Some sit by a computer station in the community room, chatting about the day, like Abby Hallock and Christian Mankowski, two 14-year-old eighth-graders who said on Monday a the center that they enjoy the relaxed environment.
“It’s nice to be able to hang out with people and be independent,” Abby said.
“I normally talk with friends, since I know most people here,” Christian said.
As he lined up a shot at the pool table, Jake Fordham, a seventh-grader, said he had participated in the center’s summer beach program while in the fifth grade after his brother, Kyle, told him about it. “Me and my brother’s friends scootered around the beach,” 12-year-old Jake said. “It was nice to meet new friends.”
Jalen Cooks, a seventh-grader, has been going to the center after school since the fifth grade. He said he noticed the popularity of the after-school program.
“It’s a lot of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders,” 13-year-old Jalen said, taking a break from a game on the basketball court outside. “Most kids go after school every day to talk and get snacks, even if they don’t have sports practice. I like it how it is.”
For students who may be shy about hanging out with so many kids after school, 15-year-old high school freshman Amanda Reifsteck had some reassuring advice.
“Don’t worry,” she said as she played cards with the program’s director, Deborah Skinner at a table inside. “Everyone is really nice.”
Whatever the reason, and whatever their after-school schedule entails on any given day, students at Pierson Middle/High School have been able to rely for the past 12 years on the program, which runs on school days from 2:36 to 5 p.m., across from the high school gymnasium. It offers such pastimes as video games and Foosball, as well as just being a place to hang out to fill the time gap between school and after-school sports or clubs, even if that means doing homework or chatting with friends.
The Youth Resource Center—formerly called the Youth Advocacy and Resource Development Program, or YARD—is supported by grants, donations and the Sag Harbor School District. The program has been so popular—with an average of 80 students attending per day—that parents and residents have expressed concern about the future of the program after since Ms. Skinner announced her plans to retire at the end of the school year.
“The after-school program is a resource for the kids,” said Janet Grossman, a retired Pierson English teacher and president of the Youth Resource Center. “All come in with little problems, and Ms. Skinner is so good with handling those problems.
“It’s also a place for shy kids who don’t like sports teams to go and make new friends,” Ms. Grossman continued. “Sixth-graders don’t have a lot of things to do after school, and they need a place to go.”
According to Ms. Skinner, the origins of the center date back to 1999, with the start of the Safe Summer Beach Program, where kids would make new friends three nights a week on Foster Memorial Town Beach, or Long Beach, in Sag Harbor in the summer. The 12- to 18-year-old attendees would participate in group activities like beach volleyball, music and crafts that gave them a chance to interact with each other during the summer, whether they were year-round residents or summer visitors.
“We were given the challenge to develop programs that enhanced youth development for kids in the middle/high school,” Ms. Skinner explained last week. “The summer program was our keystone program. We had it run in the evening, which enabled kids to go to summer jobs or day camps, or just offer them something they really needed to get them out of the house and off the couch watching summer reruns.
“It’s nice to see the local Sag Harbor kids get to meet the summer kids and forge friendships,” she said. “I’ve always fought for that.”
Ms. Skinner said that the program has offered a variety of other events to the kids of Sag Harbor, including bus trips during school vacations, a sailing program with the Breakwater Yacht Club, babysitter workshops and others. She said it costs approximately $80,000 to operate programs every year, and because there was only so much funding to spare for the summer beach program, the after-school program, and the various other activities—all of which still continue—to put on that YARD merged with the Sag Harbor Youth Center to form the Youth Resource Center in 2014.
The search is on for a replacement for Ms. Skinner, with the YRC currently in the process of going over applicants. Ms. Skinner hopes that the center can continue to provide children with the kinds of programs and activities they’ve enjoyed over the years.
“It’s important to find new ways to enrich youth,” Ms. Skinner said.
“This is about youth development,” she said. “This is the next stage for them. They’re craving more—kids that age are easily bored, and you can easily fill a vacancy with some positive information that will take them into the future.”