Summer season camp in the city: Kids laugh, play teenagers understand, grow


Leila Navidi

Program director Ylonda Dickerson teaches a class on geography for the duration of Summer Break Camp 2013 at Aloha Vegas Mobile Home Park in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

The area is barely bigger than a classroom, but the power in here rivals that of any school.

Fans buzz as an air-conditioning unit struggles to hold up with the 30-some little ones producing noise and sweat in this typical area at the Aloha Vegas Mobile Home Community.

Feather and tissue art projects spruce up a single wall. Toy blocks and beanbags transform a carpet into a play space. And five tables circled with chairs serve as ground zero for craft or snack time.

As the 5- to 12-year-olds scramble for seats, their ringleader, Ylonda Dickerson, delivers jars of play dough whilst instructing teenage camp counselors. The youngsters eye the jars, antsy to open them and discover what’s inside.

But Dickerson knows anything her teenage helpers might not realize.

“Show them what to do,” Dickerson says. “Some youngsters have never ever had play dough.”

The statement cuts to the core of the scene. In this modest room, Dickerson hopes to bridge two vulnerable populations: children in a low-revenue neighborhood that lacks basic resources and teenagers needing jobs and responsibility.

This is a summer camp run by Operation Teens Pitch In, the brainchild of Dickerson, executive director of the nonprofit Valley View Neighborhood Cares.

Sporting vibrant pink hair, Dickerson exudes boundless power — providing hugs, getting hugs, sweeping the floor, reading books, dispensing food, wiping away tears and praising homemade functions of art. She considers this hectic schedule her calling in life.

She grew up in Valley View, the North Las Vegas neighborhood that sits just west of Interstate 15 between Lake Mead Boulevard and Carey Avenue. In fact, Dickerson nonetheless lives in her childhood home on Englestad Street, inside walking distance of the Aloha Vegas Mobile Home Community.

“This neighborhood has always been type of a secluded, at-danger community,” she stated. “It was gang-affiliated, drug-affiliated. A lot of us in this neighborhood were raised by single parents.”

Dickerson, 47, is no stranger to the struggles. She gave birth to her very first kid at 13 and was the mother of five kids by the time she was 21.

For years, Dickerson grappled with her mission in life.

“I just felt like I was a large error,” she stated.

Then an thought hit her: start a kid care center aimed at helping young mothers. Dickerson formed her nonprofit, but the youngster care center never ever fairly came to fruition.

As an alternative, she began helping children and teens with gang affiliations. Now, she also functions at the Walnut Neighborhood Center as a member of Clark County’s gang intervention group, mentoring troubled teens to divert them from a life of drugs and gangs.

“I love carrying out factors in my neighborhood,” she said. “It’s like taking care of what’s in your backyard.”

A conference her nonprofit hosted many years ago, nonetheless, left Dickerson with a troubling realization. The neighborhood youngsters didn’t idolize their parents, firefighters or doctors as significantly as they looked up to the teenage gang-bangers hanging out on their streets.

Dickerson secured a $ 15,000 grant this year from North Las Vegas to commence the summer camp and address that difficulty. Then she hired six teens, some of whom have had skirmishes with the law, such as home invasions or weapons charges.

She believes they’re excellent kids who require focus and responsibility to maintain them out of trouble and on a far better path in life. The teens — clad in bright yellow shirts — earn $ 250 every two weeks for serving as camp counselors 3 days a week.

Like most of the teens, this is 17-year-old Chavriea Davis’ first summer time job. It is her friendly but booming voice that frequently corrals the youngsters when she leads them in a chant of, “Do what I do. Say what I say.”

Final year, Davis located herself in a situation that could have turned out much worse. She attended a celebration with out her parents’ permission, and gunfire rang out at the home. No 1 was injured, she said, but police took everyone’s names for future reference.

Her job as a teen counselor is a “better chance,” she said.

“I’m finding out how to have far more patience, far more responsibility — not just taking care of myself,” she said. “I have to make positive all the children are OK.”

But it’s not all about structure and authority, as 17-year-old Jovany Pouncil has learned.

He refers to the cluster of boys at his table as “my buddies.” They move from activity to activity with each other and even share a particular handshake.

“They appear up to me, and they appreciate becoming with me,” Pouncil said. “I like that.”

The youngsters come earlier and keep later — proof that the concept is operating, Dickerson said.

Forty-five youngsters enrolled in the summer season camp, which is free for any person living in the mobile-home community. Guest speakers get the youngsters moving with activities like karate and ballet, but Dickerson also weaves reading, geography and math into her curriculum.

“We’re keeping their minds fresh,” Dickerson mentioned.

Camp ends when summer time does, but each and every kid will leave with a backpack filled with school supplies — and possibly a new part model.

“We constantly speak about issues and problems of young men and women, but we’re not coming up with factors to resolve the problems,” she said. “Where are the programs to give a service to change that? If there are no applications, we have to produce applications like this.”

Next year, Dickerson plans to expand the summer season camp to three much more at-risk communities in North Las Vegas, with this year’s teens serving as leaders for a new crop of camp counselors. She hopes to observe a cycle of optimistic choices amongst the kids and teens as a outcome.

“A lot of (teens) are generating a lot of negative selections, and a lot of them are dying,” she stated. “We need to quit that.”

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