A $60,000 Washtenaw County Youth Development grant is helping Parkridge Community Center on Ypsilanti's Southside position itself as a source of technology support for students and community members.
Washtenaw Community College (WCC), which provides programming and staff at Parkridge, received the grant earlier this year. The funds were used to give laptops away to 27 young people who attended summer camp at Parkridge on the last day of the camp in late August, and inspired Parkridge staff to offer computer literacy classes at the center.
Parkridge offers summer camps at low or no cost to area parents and their children. In 2020, the summer camp program went virtual
. In 2021, the camp operated with limited capacity to ensure social distancing. Staff focused the camp heavily on academics led by three certified teachers. Activities included a drone mini-camp, programming led by the Youth Art Alliance, and several field trips, including one to the Toledo Zoo.
Nsombi Claiborne's daughter Nadiya Claiborne-Hill, a 10-year-old fifth grader, attended Parkridge's summer camp this year and received one of the laptops. Claiborne says her daughter would have attended summer camp regardless of the camp's theme or promises of a laptop, however.
"She participates in the after-school program every year, and she goes to summer camp every single year," Claiborne says. "She likes it, and it helps me with working by minimizing the cost of daycare. It's supervised, and I like that I know she's in great hands."
Nadiya Claiborne-Hill, Crystal Lyte, and Tarance Lyte.
Third grader Tarance Lyte, age 8, also received a laptop. His mother, Crystal Lyte, says her son really enjoyed the summer camp and made sure he didn't miss any days.
"He was adamant about being camper of the year," Lyte says. "He enjoys the teachers and counselors, and when he got home he was definitely tired. They didn't just do academics but kept them active on the physical side."
Regarding the laptops, Lyte notes that schools provide computers to children for classwork, but it's still been nice for her son to have a laptop of his own. She says the computer will help him keep his academic skills fresh over the summer.
"He'll be able to use it for research and looking things up. My son asks me a lot of things, and I say 'Look it up,'" Lyte says. "I like that he can take his own computer on vacation. If it's his, there's no issue [of liability] if he takes it out of town."
Parkridge staff asked the families of campers who received laptops to take a survey to help them decide what kind of computer literacy classes to offer.
"We asked them what skills entry-level computer users would need, and took those survey results to develop a class," says Anthony Williamson, community development manager at Parkridge Community Center.
The two-session class in November was available to the general public and covered basic computer skills suggested by the campers and their families.
Both Claiborne and Lyte say their children love the summer camps and other programming at Parkridge.
Nadiya Claiborne-Hill and Tarance Lyte.
"Their programming is wonderful, and I recommend it," Lyte says. "A lot of people assume that it's only for individuals who are [low-income], and it's not. It's a well-rounded program for all individuals in Washtenaw County."
Claiborne says she knows 2020 was challenging, but Parkridge staff "did a really good job with the summer camp" even though they had to limit how many children could attend to ensure social distancing. This year, her son's summer camp costs were covered by Ypsilanti Community Schools, but she says it has been worth it to pay the full cost in the past, especially since it includes breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
"We were blessed this year to have Ypsilanti Community Schools pay for tuition for summer camp, but I don't mind paying. It is the best $200 I could spend," Claiborne says.
Lyte says she enjoys having a community center with many offerings for youth close to home.
"It's something I'm glad I can say my son is a part of," Lyte says. "We don't have to go out to Ann Arbor or Dearborn, but can go somewhere in our very own community."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.