Organization Mission and History

The YMCA was founded in 1884. Our mission is to welcome people of all ages, ethnic groups and affiliations to unite in a common effort to promote Youth Development, Healthy Lifestyles and Social Responsibility The Community Development YMCA branch’s special mission is to reach out to the lowest income communities in Long Beach. Our programs include: After school academic programs serving 1,300 children a day; a community school program delivering both child and parent leadership programs to 900 families; the Youth Institute serving 400 teens consistently and a Family Involvement Project offering 600 classes to 1,400 parents per year. We serve 2,000 children, youth and families unduplicated every day.
History of Long Beach Youth Institute

In 2000, I was asked to return to work for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach to embark on a new initiative funded by the James Irvine Foundation, CORAL (Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning) project. As a part of this broad initiative the foundation wanted to engage high school youth in innovative ways to connect to academic achievement and careers.

I was asked to write a proposal for a type of ‘Youth Institute’ and was given wide parameters on how to approach this concept. I soon met with a friend from Apple, Michael Hoy, to explore the possibility of using digital arts as a unique engagement tool and storytelling medium for young people. Apple had just barely come out with the new round iMac and a new consumer based digital movie-making software called iMovie. I was excited because I saw the possibility of urban youth being able to use this new medium to tell their own personal and community stories.

I soon embarked on writing a grant for a Digital Media Arts Youth Institute that would teach high end graphics, movie-making and web design skills to urban youth through a youth development framework of safety, relationship building and bonding, diversity training, community involvement, multiple skill building and youth leadership development.

So in doing so I knew that we needed some more traditional intervention models such as a group building and problem solving wilderness experience before the youth ever touched a computer or a camera. My skills in the YMCA were Outdoor Education, not technology. I also knew that we had to address the workforce inequality of women and minorities in the digital arts fields. So we developed a recruitment process that guaranteed 50% male and 50% female.

Because we are from Long Beach, one of the most diverse cities in the United States, we decided to recruit youth based on equal numbers of ethnicities and put them into production teams based on equal gender and multiple ethnicities per group. We did this to both teach youth how to work with different cultures and sexes as well as to mimic the international technology workforce. Both Google and Apple state that this is an ongoing issue with their diverse staff.

Then we decided to recruit youth entering the ninth grades because according to the Harvard Civil Rights Institute, this is a very vulnerable time for youth at risk of dropping out of school between the transition years of middle and high school. If youth stay in high school to 11th grade then their risk of dropping out lowers considerably. We also wanted youth who do not bond to traditional high school institutions such as sports or clubs to have a long term pro-social place to go after school besides gangs or hanging out with no adult supervision. Lastly, we wanted to recruit youth who have had negative things happen in their lives but show resiliency to these situations and still stay in school. So we developed a recruitment application that served to identify these trends and situations to help us recruit youth who could bond with us and be successful.

Then we embarked on designing the curriculum to where it was project based, service learning based and connected to real world applications both academically and in the workforce. What we got in the end was a comprehensive structured well rounded approach to Youth Development that focuses on artistic approaches to learning and connecting the skills to academics and the workforce while teaching values, leadership and reengaging youth to their own futures.