Six area Youth and Family Development Centers will be open this summer to host camps, while plans to fully staff the camps and the other 12 sites are still in the works, the city of Chattanooga announced Tuesday.
The centers have been closed since early 2020, close to the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, when the city shut down many public spaces to prevent the spread of illness.
Last week the city announced that Chattanooga was working on plans for the camps and the centers. On Tuesday, officials confirmed that the Avondale, Brainerd, Carver, Hixson, JA Patten and South Chattanooga sites will be reopening to host camps and that camp counselors were needed.
According to Chattanooga Director of Special Projects Ellis Smith, the city is working on details of staffing and safety for the camps as well as all the centers with the ongoing pandemic. City council members and other city departments will discuss further specifics during their upcoming meeting on May 25.
According to Chattanooga Director of Special Projects Ellis Smith, the city is working on details of staffing and safety for the camps as well as all the centers with the ongoing pandemic. City representatives and the city council will discuss further specifics during the weekly city council meeting on May 25.
"Safety and staffing are tied together in order to ensure that the children, the students are being taken care of, that there's a good ratio of people watching them to ensure their safety," Smith said in an interview with the Times Free Press. "And also because, you know, we're still in some pandemic conditions, and we want to make sure that we don't get too overcrowded where we're presenting a health risk."
District 9 City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod addressed concerns on her Facebook page about the possibility of a slew of sites being understaffed and remaining closed, and she said in an interview with the Times Free Press that the sites during the summer are an important outlet for area youth.
"Our community centers most definitely help build strong, safe, inclusive communities once it's done right, right, because it's supposed to be for our families and, and we're doing a disservice if we're not helping the entire family, and pushing them to thrive," she said.
"The sites have always been a safe haven for our community members. It's been used as, you know, social gatherings. For many, you know, they just have nowhere else to go. Like, it deters violence because there's different programming and different people that they like to interact with."
Coonrod said she has encouraged families to enroll their children in the Hamilton County Schools' summer program, REACH, to continue academic learning throughout the summer with free transportation and food. But she hopes that the centers will also be open for those same students after they leave summer school for the day and that the city will prioritize providing space for as many children as logistically possible.
"The community does have some concerns," she said, "with the uptick of the violence that we've seen in the killings that's going on here recently, so we just feel like the YFD sites should be open, all the sites and not just limited to the [six] sites that are here that are geared for summer camp.
"We most definitely want to, you know, provide a safe space for our youth to be able to have a space that will give them positive empowerment and environment. That's my hope because we can't continue to lose bodies."
Those interested in working at one of the summer programs can apply at bit.ly/cha-job.
Contact Tierra Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.