Voices of Youth: Ypsi clubhouse offers a safe place for youth to learn and grow after school

Educate Youth's after-school programming serves Ypsilanti youth in several ways, focusing on showing youth how education can positively impact their futures.
This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, Concentrate staffer Jaishree Drepaul examines how an Ypsilanti after-school program positively impacts local youth.

Sometimes after 16-year-old Kim Tobar gets out of school, she can't wait to get to the Educate Youth clubhouse at 104 S. Huron St. in Ypsilanti. It's her safe place.

"The teachers and staff at my school are pretty supportive. But some of the other kids … uh, not so much. Sometimes, if I say something in my classroom, I have to be very careful. Sometimes I get dirty looks, and sometimes I know I'm being judged because of where I come from," says Tobar, who is from Guatemala.

She says having a place for protected after-school learning, such as Educate Youth, has really made an impact. The nonprofit first opened its doors in 2017 with an intent to empower youth through education. Educate Youth serves Ypsilanti youth in several ways, focusing on showing youth how education can positively impact their futures.

"At the clubhouse it's different," Tobar says. "I can share my mind. Like, instantly, … I feel rewarded for being me, and I can say whatever comes to mind, right there, right now."

Having Opportunities for Positive Learning

Educate Youth's H.O.P.E. (Having Opportunities for Positive Learning) after-school program was designed to improve Michigan's 84% high school graduation rate. Wrap-around services, such as tutoring, job readiness, and mental health support are some of the ways Educate Youth staff have been working towards this goal.

"Our students come here because they want to come here. That is really the magic of it," says Gail Wolkoff, Educate Youth's founder and executive director. "We have students who want to succeed and who want to make an impact on the world."

Tobar is planning to be a teacher after she graduates high school, and Educate Youth might be a stepping stone along that path. Educate Youth's team of staff, volunteers, parents, and community supporters celebrated Tobar's and other students' and mentors' achievements earlier this month. The special graduation celebration honored Educate Youth's five seniors. Tobar's sister, Jocy, was among them. She was given a specially printed shirt bearing the words "Educated Latina."
Doug CoombeCelebrate Youth student Kim Tobar.
Kim Tobar says it was meaningful to see her sister succeed. She laughs when asked if she might steal her sister's new shirt.

"Nah," she says. "It might not fit. Maybe someday I'll be given my own." 

Jordan Dorsey recently completed the Educate Youth program and is now a mentor. He was also honored at the June event. He explains that his grades "were okay" before he started the program at Educate Youth, but "sometimes life gets tough and issues come up." The group gave him the pushes that he needed.

"Every minute has been fun and a blast because of the people. Sometimes I call myself a mentor-plus," he says. "I learned a lot. I get to help other kids now and give them hope."
Doug CoombeEducate Youth program graduate and tutor Jordan Dorsey.
Dorsey says his mom knew Wolkoff long before he joined Educate Youth, and he's been involved with the program long enough that he and his family had forgotten exactly when he started.

"This is full circle for me, to be a mentor," he says.

Dorsey's next big goal is to get his Bachelor of Arts degree. He's currently enrolled in college and hopes to transfer to Wayne State University in the future.

"I have to keep things going," he says. 

"Help has a ripple effect"

Wolkoff says that when she hears her students laugh it makes her "heart happy." She refers to the ACE Quiz, which assesses adverse childhood events and their possible impacts. Many students who walk through Educate Youth's doors are being supported through many layers of healing.

"I don't know how to explain to people what it means to hear them laugh," she says. "Do you know what the safety of a real belly laugh can mean to some of these kids?"

Tobar says she's felt a sense of freedom through Educate Youth. She recalls being laughed at for her religious views in school one day.
Doug CoombeEducate Youth founder and executive director Gail Wolkoff.
"They were saying mean things and I couldn't wait to get to the clubhouse," she says. "I get there and share my views, and people nodded and said that it's all cool. There's freedom there."

Wolkoff shares that creating an empowering environment – where kids can learn about themselves, the world, and the skills they need to thrive in it – means meeting them where they are. 

Sometimes that means noticing a student's worn-out shoes, and then making a new pair in their size "magically appear." Other times it means giving a student a needed, culturally appropriate shampoo. 
Doug CoombeEducate Youth tutor Justice Mangual at the Educate Youth's graduation celebration.
"These things make a difference on a kid's confidence and performance," Wolkoff says. "Plus, I don't want them giving me any excuses for not doing well in school."

Wolkoff says financial support is welcome at Educate Youth. She explains that there is value to the whole community in helping a smaller organization supporting students in need.

"We have 12-15 students because we have a small location, but each student represents a family or a zone," she says. "Help has a ripple effect." 

Jaishree Drepaul is a writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.

To learn more about Concentrate's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click 
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