New youth program center in the Bronx fosters unique learning environment for kids

New centers will also open in Queens and Manhattan in the next few weeks

Sonia Rincón Image
Friday, May 26, 2023
Newly opened youth center fosters unique learning environment
A new youth center in the Bronx is using technology to provide teens with unique lessons targeting career skills while assessing their mental health and well-being. Sonia Rincon has the story.

EAST TREMONT, Bronx (WABC) -- Parents who want better "options" for their kids this summer may be in luck thanks to a new youth program center that just opened up in the Bronx.

The OPTIONS program is using technology to provide teens with unique lessons targeting everything from career skills such as coding and video editing, while assessing their mental health and well-being.

The program started in 2018 in East New York/Brownsville with the intention of engaging teens, giving them alternatives, teaching them career skills and discussing what's going on in their neighborhoods. Part of the curriculum is dedicated to helping participants understand how to de-escalate and understand their feelings.

In one particular demonstration, a teen uses a virtual reality screen. But it isn't just a game. It's a lesson in decision making: whether to help a classmate hide contraband at school.

"It's really important not to be like, this is the right choice, this is the wrong choice, but rather to say this is the choice you're making, this is the outcome of the choice," OPTIONS ambassador John Negron said.

Madison Moreno, 19, says it's something everyone should learn.

"Learning how to assess a situation, identify my emotions and know what path is the right one to take, de-escalating the situation," Moreno said.

These are the first lessons in the OPTIONS curriculum filled with self-reflection to foster emotional health, followed by lessons in career skills like finance, to creative outlets, like music.

The program, which has operated as pop-up sites, uses all-incorporating technology.

The first of several new OPTIONS centers run by the NYPD and The New York City Police Foundation opened Thursday in East Tremont, a part of the Bronx that's struggled with youth violence. The center is the first space dedicated entirely to the program.

"There's a lot of feelings that the young people have not tapped into, and that's the first phase of it," said Greg Roberts of the New York City Police Foundation. "Get the young people to tap into those feelings and take it from there."

He says there's a lot of self-reflection in addition to fun activities.

"The fact that they do it with the police officers is a very interesting phenomenon. Because they bond together," Roberts said. "They see that they experience some of the same feelings and are learning how to cope."

"Having this space here on Arthur Avenue is really the right time for the right reason," Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said. "Recognizing the assignment and the purpose, to make difference, to set young people up for success, to give them better options, to give them better alternatives so they can make better decisions about themselves and their future."

City teens like 16-year-old Jeremy Torres helped design the space.

"I know that some kids have no place to go, I know they're struggling at home, so this center could really be an opportunity and a safe space for them to come be themselves," Torres said.

The kids are using their creative and digital skills to literally bring a mural to life. Just by holding up a camera up to it, they're using augmented reality and two different types of AI as well as their own music and artwork to open a whole world of possibilities.

"These are things that were only ideas before in our last community center and now that we have all this space, we can really take up the opportunity to give people the space and the time to dedicate themselves creatively, to really build up their resumes, to better themselves professionally and personally," Moreno said.

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell says that everyone benefits when more young people have a chance to experience this program.

New centers will also open in Queens and Manhattan in the next few weeks, giving more teens this exciting opportunity.

Ahead of the summer, it is exactly what so many families throughout the boroughs have been asking for: a place teenagers can be safe, learn, socialize and have fun, with police officers.

For more information on how to get your kids into the program, you can check out the OPTIONS website.


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