New program helps Southside youth get involved in community


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The crowd of 12- to 17-year-olds seemed more interested in spraying each other with water than washing the car in front of them. On Wednesday, they held a car wash in the Sherwin Williams parking lot to raise money for a splash pad they want to set up in Wetherby Park.

They are working through a new initiative called YES — Youth Empowered to Serve — in which 20 to 25 teenagers living on the Southeast Side of Iowa City meet every Wednesday to do community service projects.

“Different people had different problems about loud music playing in their area, kids riding their bikes, different little things that caused us to get together and ask what we could do to bring these kids out and do something positive for the community,” said Royceann Porter, one of the program founders.

Porter has worked closely with City Councilor Amy Correia, who is also the social services coordinator for Johnson County, to develop the program.

“The thing [we want to do] is to really show the community that youth who live on the Southeast Side have a contribution they can make to our community in a positive way,” Correia said.

The same group of leaders who started the program have also made daily, free activities available to all teenagers on the southeast side.

“There has been a concerted effort to make positive activities that are free more available in the neighborhood,” Correia said.

These activities include an open gym at Wood Elementary, crochet and knitting lessons at the Broadway Neighborhood Center, drill-team practice, drum line and dance classes.

The opportunity to play basketball in the open gym was one of the greatest attractions for Michael Cornell, 14, who heard about the new program through the mentoring initiative, Children of Promise.

“I go every Thursday,” he said. “I also really liked painting shirts and going swimming last week.”
Logan Maddox, 12, who heard about the program the same way as Cornell, said he enjoyed the activities, then ran off to help dry a car and hold up a sign.

Correia and Porter said they hope the YES initiative and the daily activities — both of which are new to the Iowa City community this summer — will continue throughout the year. Attendance so far has been good, Correia said, and support from the community is high.

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