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Los Alamitos Youth Center adapts but needs the community to survive

In the foreground is Youth Center Program Director and Camp SHARK Director Jamie Harris with children playing “Duck Duck Goose” at St. Isidore Historical Plaza in Los Alamitos. The Youth Center has offered free childcare for essential workers at the since June 1 at the plaza. Photo by Laurie Hanson.


By Laurie Hanson • June 16, 2020

For the first time in 68 years, The Youth Center in Los Alamitos is faced with an existential crisis of grand proportion with COVID-19’s personal and economic devastation. The award-winning nonprofit adapted services in new ways but needs community support to keep their doors open.

“This year has proven certainly challenging, and we’re barely in the first six months,” said Youth Center Executive Director Lina Lumme. “No one knows what the ‘new normal’ looks like, but we have glimpses particularly in terms of fundraising, and with what we can safely offer as in-person services or what needs to remain online.”

“As we reopen, we are having to re-think new ways to raise funds,” she explained. “We had to cancel our annual golf tournament fundraiser and scale down our biggest program, Camp SHARK (Science, Hands-on, Art, Recreation, and Knowledge). Though the changes were necessary, we lost $100,000.”

Lumme and her team are determined to rally community supporters so The Youth Center can continue now and into the future. She said they learn daily about new ways to keep afloat. Their elementary music education program is now offered online remotely to 260 students, and their tutoring and mentoring programs were provided online to 180 students in the past two months.

“We launched online classes within one week after the shutdown, and have had positive feedback from students and parents,” she said. “We also launched a Free Resources Page for parents and volunteers that’s been visited online more than 5,000 times in the past two months.” The page can be found at www.theyouthcenter.org.

The Youth Center recently launched a charity Etsy store online “Shark4Kids,” where their Camp- In-A-Box can be purchased. The box is the “brainchild” of Camp Director Jamie Harris and is full of activities, crafts and more than 20 projects put together by volunteers to keep kids active without electronics, just like at Camp SHARK. In the past two months 268 projects were delivered to local kids. Boxes can also be donated to children in need.

Camp SHARK will reopen on July 6, in accordance with the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Rossmoor Community Services District (RCSD) guidelines, according to Lumme. A modified Teen Camp opened on June 15.

“While we are hopeful that summer camps will continue uninterrupted, the health and safety of our community is of utmost concern,” she said. “Face masks, temperature checks, disinfecting and cleaning, and social distancing will be our ‘new normal’.”

To help keep The Youth Center afloat and to support their three after school programs while opening a potential fourth location, a raffle is being held. Tickets can be purchased for $50 each for a chance to win $5,000. The nonprofit got a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan, and upon approval brought back employees, according to Lumme. Before they provided each after school program staff with $200 stipends for food during this difficult time.

“Some anonymous private supporters have stepped up to help, and now with the raffle we hope to rally other community members and friends,” said Lumme. “The difficult thing is keeping our programs open because we rely on donations to do that, and when everyone is struggling, less comes in. But we hope for the best.”

Another funding resource came when The Youth Center placed as a finalist in the 2020 UCLA Social Enterprise Academy and was awarded $11,000 on May 28. “Out of 10 amazing nonprofits from all over California, we were named one of the top two,” explained Lumme. The funds will be used when school reopens to help offer traveling adventures with greater educational and friendship opportunities like their Teen Camp.

“This is a prestigious award – akin to winning an Academy Award,” said Lumme. “Winning it brought tears to our eyes!”

Since June 1, The Youth Center has offered “Free Childcare for Essential Workers,” in partnership with St. Isidore Historical Plaza and Casa Youth Shelter in Los Alamitos. Spots were filled within the first week as 40 families from Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Seal Beach, and surrounding communities took advantage of the service.

“Parents were so grateful that they thanked us daily for it,” said Lumme. “A few more spots are open now, as we’ve increased our enrollment limit. Funding for it comes from the generosity of our donors and all who helped during our Community Support Campaign including monthly donors.”

Looking now into the future, Lumme believes The Youth Center will recover. She said they cannot do it alone, that it will take the community’s help to keep their doors open. But she added, “Our community is strong, and together, we will get through this.”