As summer winds down and the lazy, hazy days of August give way to crisper air and school shopping, the CanTeen has just the program to help kids ages 10 to 12 prepare for the upcoming year.
The teen center in Cicero will again be home to “Helping Other Students to Succeed,” or HOSTS, a program in which older teens discuss important issues with preteens.
“The original idea was to do something that would get teens involved with younger kids,” said Jenna Ogden, who, along with Toni Brauchle, runs the center. “It’s evolved a lot since then.”
Indeed, the program began as an activity-based initiative, focusing on things like Project Adventure and similar activities to encourage bonding between teens and preteens. But since it started in 2003, HOSTS has become more discussion-based. Older kids talk about issues like body image, relationships and school with younger kids during a four-day session, then complete the week with a trip to Oneida Shores.
This is the third year that the program has taken place during the summer. Ogden and Brauchle had initially tried it on Saturdays during the school year, first in the fall and then in the spring, but the turnout was less than they’d hoped for. That was resolved when they moved it to the end of the summer.
“Last year was our biggest year ever,” Ogden said. “We had about 15 to 20 kids per session.”
The program is designed to address the needs of kids entering middle school.
“Kids older than that are pretty heavily scheduled, and so are kids older than that,” Ogden said. “There’s a gap there. Kids in between really don’t have an outlet. They’re getting too old for parks and rec [summer programs], and they’re too young for other things. There’s nothing in between.”
HOSTS provides that outlet, offering a chance for kids in that age group to gather with their peers as well as older kids to discuss issues that concern them.
“It has changed a lot from how we had originally envisioned it,” Ogden said. “But we’re really happy with the way it’s turning out.”
Part of the reason for the evolution is that Brauchle and Ogden have given the older teens the power to basically run the program.
“We explain what it is and what each day’s topic is and give them some ideas, and then they take that and plan each day’s activities,” Ogden said. “They come up with everything else.”
Because it’s not just a lecture from out-of-touch adults, the program really hits home with the target audience.
“The younger kids just think it’s the coolest thing,” Ogden said. “If adults ran it, they’d hate it, but since the kids do, they actually listen. They get involved. It’s really fun to watch.”
The program also has its perks for the older kids. Not only do they develop connections with their young charges, they gain a sense of accomplishment.
“A lot of these kids, they aren’t the kids that are typically in leadership positions in school,” Brauchle said of the kids who serve as mentors. “They think, ‘No one’s going to look up to me. No one’s going to listen to what I have to say.’ But if we say, ‘Yes, you can do this,’ and they do it, and they find that they can, it gives them a major confidence boost, and then they might be willing to take on a leadership role elsewhere.”
The program is free and open to all area residents — the center is seeking 10- to 12-year-old participants. It will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday August 18 to Friday Aug. 22 and Monday Aug. 25 to Friday Aug. 29. You cannot sign up for both sessions. Cicero residency is not required. Registration is necessary; to sign up, contact the Cicero Parks, Recreation and Youth Bureau at 699-5233.
The following is the schedule of topics to be discussed as part of the HOSTS program:
Monday: “Who Are We”
Tuesday: “Body Image”
Thursday: “Serious Stuff”
Friday: Trip to Oneida Shores
Thursday’s program is based on responses to a survey given to participants on the first day of the program. It can include anything from drugs and alcohol to bullying.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.