Spotlight on the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse Community Hub

By Kevin Rojas & Emily Madriz

The historic Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse at Balboa Park was recently renovated by the SF Recreation & Parks Department as a youth arts center. As part of the Community Hub Initiative, the newly refurbished landmark has become home to a Community Hub run jointly by the Mission YMCA and Jamestown Community Center, with the Y starting the day and Jamestown taking over in the afternoon. Site coordinators Kevin Rojas of Mission YMCA and Emily Madriz of Jamestown take us through a day at the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse Community Hub:

Greetings, my name is Kevin Rojas, program lead for the Mission YMCA. My colleague Teresa Sebaylos and I are currently taking on the roles of Site Coordinators at Geneva Car Barn’s community hub. At our community hub, I help coordinate the communication between our program and our students’ legal guardians, from creating academic success plans for students to adjusting to dietary needs. We have two cohorts, with the first one consisting of kids in elementary and the second cohort consisting of kids in the middle school age group.

My name is Emily Madriz and I am currently an Interim Manager for our Jamestown-Longfellow site. I have a passion to help our community at Longfellow by building relationships and committing to connect them with resources and aid needed. I organize our food bank, tutoring program, push-in teachers, and school events alongside Longfellow and its partnerships. I have an enthusiastic view when it comes to education of young minds and delight in watching them grow everyday. It is because of this knowledge that I can help I find myself repeating what I know teachers do in their regular classrooms such as going over the date, day of the week, month, counting numbers and other routines that support a stronger grasp of their fundamental education.

Kevin Rojas, Mission YMCA

The Mission Y team’s morning regimen consists of sanitizing shared spaces between students and staff such as the faucet area, students’ desks, as well as the bathrooms and door handles. Students typically then begin to pour into program around 8:40am, and it is then where we conduct our daily health screenings/wellness checks. Most of our students begin classes at 9am with the exception of a few Kindergarteners that begin a half hour later. Once everyone gets the ball rolling in the mornings, eventually lunch time comes around. Some kids even enjoy snacking during their small breaks in Zoom, which we like to encourage because we noticed that it helps them stay fueled and attentive to their teachers. During this time, we assist most of our kids with their Seesaw assignments or schoolwork.

Collaborating with Jamestown has had many great benefits for us staff members and most importantly for our kids. It is interesting to think that there are benefits to collaborating with another program, but there really are: our kids have the opportunity to receive help with schoolwork from 8 different adults, all whom have different backgrounds, allowing kids to speak in Spanish, English, or in many cases both languages. Our kids love their time with the other program, since most of our kids are done with school by the time Jamestown takes over the hub, giving them more time to focus on extra-curricular activities whether it is socially or academically.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar visits Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse

One challenge that we faced once we created this hub at the beginning was that students had different breaks and lunch times, which was something my team and I had to figure out; it caused a distraction for other students that were still in Zoom because they would see their peers eating a snack or taking a short mental break from school. It is interesting as a staff to see how easily kids can get distracted, but we quickly learned that re-directing them during school time was a great technique for our younger ones, which was where we noticed this behavior the most.

The biggest thing for most of our kids is simply gaining their trust and respect. As young humans who have been restricted from social activities due to the pandemic, they have been left with little to no social skills or exposure to new adults, which in many cases becomes a challenge for parents once they try integrating their kids in structured programs such as community hubs. We have been doing a great job of keeping the atmosphere at our hub welcoming and joyful. This has been done by building connections with parents and kids. I really enjoy asking the kids about their weekends because most of them come back eager to share stories about what they did or saw.

There are many awesome stories that I could share with the community but one that has resonated with me is this young student who is a kindergartener. They have had a hard time sticking to the scheduled mealtimes. Mom and staff communicated thoroughly about her daughter, and we had a rough first week, but the following week I was determined to try to figure this out. I simply had an honest conversation with her about eating: I explained to her how we have specific times where we eat, and the student was very receptive of the conversation, which surprised me. When mom characterized the student’s behavior to us, we had imagined other obstacles, but all it took was one simple honest conversation with the student. Being patient with young ones might not always be a breeze, but it is definitely a key skill, and that is something that is greatly valued by our youth.

Regardless of the pandemic, San Francisco will always be one of the most beautiful cities in California. From the melting pot of cultures to music, history and landscapes, this place will blow you away. SF is a great place to grow up during the pandemic because there are many open spaces where you can enjoy outside time even while socially distancing — some parks in the city have marks on the grass that separate people 6 feet apart.

I believe that once our communities in SF are safe to open up parks 100% and recreational activities for our youth, teens, adults, seniors and community with accessibility needs, the city should offer some form of discount on these recreational activities whereas other years you would have to pay registration fees or things in that nature. This way, families of all economic backgrounds have the opportunity to integrate socially with their community, which many times opens lots of opportunities for families by simply engaging with different people. I think this is a great stepping stone to getting our local families active and engaged again. This is one of my biggest motivating factors, helping families engage and take advantage of their local resources in their community.

Kevin, as we struggle and grind through the pandemic, what song motivates you to continue to serve our communities?

“Dedication” by Nipsey Hussle is a song that reminds me on a weekly basis why I do what I do and most importantly gives what I do a reason. The reason is, to give kids a platform to be able to explain themselves, socially, academically, spiritually and psychologically. Being a kid from inner-city Los Angeles area, I seen a lot and experienced more. I seen friends not have a platform to express themselves or showcase their talents which led to them either joining gangs or hustling and I think this song is a living metaphor of all of that. Nipsey speaks from the heart and a majority of people that do the work I do, also do it from the heart for the kids and communities. In our loving memories, Nipsey Hussle.

11/9/20 open date; 4 staff; 24 youth enrolled; 1,996 meals served
The Mission Y and Jamestown teams

Emily Madriz, Jamestown Community Center

The Jamestown team unofficially begins our shift at 12:30 to prepare ourselves by communicating with the Mission Y team about any positive comments or concerns noted about any of the students, families, or teachers. We then begin to check in with students that need encouragement to commit to a better day. At 1, we take everyone’s temperature and give an opportunity for students to go one by one to the restroom. From about 1:10 to 1:40, each cohort begins with a check in where rules and expectations are gone over daily, an intention or theme is set for the week, followed by a game or question relating to the theme. By 2:30, we offer snacks and a small stretch break. Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays we have art teachers from the Youth Art Exchange come in for 2 hours of hands-on projects ranging from basic art skills to architecture. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have our Jamestown teachers hold enrichment classes focused on a monthly theme/weekly sub theme that incorporates physical, social justice, and social emotional learning. We give students intentional free time (choices between homework, an educational show or video, or group bonding conversations) for the last hour before they get picked up. Before being released to their guardians, students are temperature checked and asked about their favorite part of the day.

Jamestown ALWAYS begins our shift with our cohorts with a check-in that in one way or another provides space for students to express themselves and be heard by their peers and teachers alike. We greet and send off our students and guardians by name and make it a point to include lots of opportunities for community earned prizes and parties. We take the time to know each individual student and as this hub is relatively small, we have the time to really work on building those relationships.

Students and guardians alike have reported being happy to be a part of our Hub as it gives them a chance to interact with other students around their age, although it has not all been smooth sailing. To start, some challenges include having students that have had minimal to no schooling experience. Lower grade students struggled to be present and participate in class and subsequent homework assignments were also difficult as their computer and reading skills were and are still developing. Highlights include being able to help students on a personal level and being able to create a strong smaller community despite the minor age differences. We worked with one student in particular, featured on the Wall Street Journal, who came to the Powerhouse Hub in November with over 100+ assignments. She is now down to 3–4 assignments per week, an average amount for a kindergartener.

I have connected with several teachers from various schools during my time working with the hub. I have been newly inspired through working with these teachers and have been reminded of why I chose to work with youth in the first place. There are some teachers that have felt comfortable with me as we have gotten to know each other through our work with our overlapping students. These same teachers go above and beyond to help their students, showing their dedication by reaching out to Jamestown for specific requests for support and keeping open communication with the student’s families and teachers at the Hub.

I believe that both the Mission Y and Jamestown teams could benefit from more support in educating program staff about the various needs across different grades and age groups. It would also be helpful to go over how adults are unwitting role models to students despite ages or grades. I would also like to suggest biannual screening of all staff and personnel in the organizations to see if their values align with the company’s values and mission. There is a high burnout rate for CBO staff and few staff members with skills and patience to put in 100% effort to meet students at their current skill levels. Education and check-ins would be the best evidenced-based practice to help improve this ongoing issue.

As a San Francisco native, born and raised, I see my city grow and improve every year. A lot of changes have helped clean up the city and improve our community resources. Close to all of the tables, masks, prizes, and art supplies at the Powerhouse hub have been donated through the Buy Nothing community by San Francisco residents who were interested in helping Jamestown provide a fun learning experience to our students, no matter how temporary! I am very impressed with the response I got from our community, and my faith in my city has increased tenfold.

The partnership with the SF Recreation and Parks Department has been incredibly helpful in supporting the program and its needs. To further support our Hub community, we can collaborate with Rec and Park to make its many gardening, sports, and other programs easier for our families to access now that we are moving into a new tier of health protocols.

Being able to work and learn from home has all been a blessing in disguise: we have all worked on motivating and scheduling ourselves. I hope, moving forward, we are able to utilize similar skills that will help us all be able to work remotely and spend a little more time at home with the ones we love.

Emily, as we struggle and grind through the pandemic, what song motivates you to continue to serve our communities?

“Where do the Children Play?” — Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Well I think it’s fine, building Jumbo planes 🛩

Or taking a ride on a cosmic train 🚂

Switch on summer from a slot machine 🎰

Get what you want to if you want, ’cause you can get anything 💵

I know we’ve come a long way 🏔

We’re changing day to day 👦🏼🙃😂

But tell me, where do the children play? 👧🏿👧🏽👧🏻

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass 🍀

For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas ⛽️

And you make them long, and you make them tough 💪🏽

But they just go on and on, and it seems you can’t get off 🙉

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way 👨‍🎨

We’re changing day to day 👩🏼‍

But tell me, where do the children play? 👶🏾👧🏼

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air 🏙

Will you keep on building higher 🏗

’Til there’s no more room up there? ⛔️

Will you make us 😂 , will you make us cry? 😢

Will you tell us when to live 🤰🏾, will you tell us when to die?🪦

I know we’ve come a long way 🧳

We’re changing day to day 👯‍♂️

But tell me, where do the children play? 🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏿‍♂️

Making San Francisco a great place to grow up, DCYF has led the City's investments in children, youth, TAY and their families since 1991. www.dcyf.org

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