‘It’s worked out pretty good for 20 years’

After-school program celebrates two decades in the community

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 22, 2016

 Faith Baer, 10, of Farmington Hills, rides on the back of Alysia Cyrul, 10, of Farmington Hills, on the ice during the event.

Faith Baer, 10, of Farmington Hills, rides on the back of Alysia Cyrul, 10, of Farmington Hills, on the ice during the event.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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FARMINGTON HILLS  — It could have been 1996 that day. 

With a Spider-Man cap on his head, a Day-Glo necklace hanging from his neck and a Detroit Lions jersey on his back, Warner Upper Elementary School fifth-grader Gabriel Poole danced, laughed and played with others on “shredded” ice. 

The scene was March 18, in the dark, on the ice at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena, celebrating the birth of the city’s after-school program 20 years ago. Youth from all over gathered to celebrate the program’s anniversary with pizza and cake.

Gabriel said he joined the program at the beginning of the year through his school.

“My mom asked me if I wanted to do it or not, and I said ‘yes,’” Gabriel said. “I know that I made a good choice because I made new friends, and you get to do new things like dancing on the ice and getting ready to skate. If you’re far away from your old friends and you never get to see them again, it is good to make new friends, and you can talk to them and socialize.” 

Gabriel’s friend and Warner fifth-grader Kyle Tucker said he joined the after-school program last summer.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “We get to play video games; we get to play pool. We get to come down here, and ice skating is my favorite part. It just feels good to skate real fast in the snow and feel like I accomplished something; I would like to come here a lot more.”

Youth and Family Services Director Todd Lipa was inspired by his grandmother’s desire for a safe place for kids, which came to fruition when he, in partnership with former Mayor and City Councilwoman Nancy Bates and the Farmington Hills City Council, launched the Farmington Hills After-School Youth Center program.

Since 1996, the program has made an impact on nearly 12,000 fifth- through eighth-grade students in Farmington and Farmington Hills.

Bates has said previously that Lipa understands what the youth need and “sees that they get it.”

The program has led to the formation of the Mayor’s Youth Council, a group of teens who work alongside community leaders.

Lipa said recently that many youth don’t realize how much they have helped him over the years.

“These kids think I’ve been there for them,” he said. “These kids have been there for me many times.”

He added that the 20 years have been an “amazing ride.”

“Looking forward to seeing what is going to happen in the future.”

Lipa said the after-school program has cranked out doctors, social workers, missionaries, a Google employee and more.

Lipa added that City Councilwoman Samantha Steckloff was also once a member of the program.

“I’ve run into kids working the average job, and what kept them out of trouble is the youth center,” he said. “All these kids remember Nancy Bates and ask how she is doing.”

Lipa said he’s watched the program go from being a place where children go after school in the 1990s to meeting the same needs differently today.

“Now, exactly 20 years later to today ... we’re seeing in some ways a greater need,” he said, adding that the program has always been between 500 and 700 youth, and now it is sometimes up to 800. “We’ve been able to go through really good times in our community when things were easier through the hard times in our community.”

He added that because the economy is on an upswing, the after-school program is at a place where it can roll out a new offering: the Healthy Kids Initiative.

“Our community sees a need for a program right now,” he said.

The pilot program stems from then-Botsford Hospital’s Community Health Needs Assessment, which showed that many Farmington and Farmington Hills residents are overweight and inactive, and are not taking advantage of preventive care services for their health.

The results were released in December 2013, and a Community Assessment Advisory Council developed a preliminary list of major health issues that are impacting the community.

Lipa said he is hoping to get between 75 and 100 youth involved, as well as parents and staff.

The program is looking to use pedometers, or similar devices; they are currently in discussion with a manufacturer. 

The goal is to work with a local company to develop a game or app for children to track their steps and build healthy living into their lives.

A spring or summer launch is scheduled, with a hard push toward more active living in the fall.

“(We want to) get more kids healthy and start thinking now what it means to be healthier and more active,” he said.

To learn more about the after-school program, visit www.fhgov.com and click on the Special Services Department.

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