The Young People’s Place
Youth have room to thrive at the YAPAtorium
Sometimes the difference a place makes can’t be measured in statistics but is felt in the moment by the people who are there. The YAPAtorium is a place like that. While it might not be possible to keep records of the exact impact this youth center makes, what we do know is it’s a safe and welcoming space in our community where preteens and teens can go to just be themselves.
There are no fees or costs for kids ages 11 to 17 to spend time at YAPA, which stands for Youth-Adult Partnership of Aberdeen. Equally important, the facility is free from the pressures of a party scene. If kids have an interest, whether that’s leading a student organization or joining a band, they can pursue that here, but none of the available programming is required or graded. Walking in, you’ll first notice how the walls are adorned with artwork made by YAPA students. Comfy furniture with access to Netflix and gaming consoles are set up near tables for doing homework or enjoying a bite from the snack bar. There’s a room dedicated to performing live music, and another piled high with art supplies, books, and board games. It fits the look of a teen hangout, and as supervisor Nick Eilts explains, that’s because all the activities you find here came directly from the young people who use the center. “Kids know their own generation. If you ask them what would bring their friends here, they’ll tell you and be spot on. As staff we just have to be ready to listen and see how we can make those things work.”
Having fun is the goal, but YAPA serves another important purpose when hosting programs and events. Nick says, “Kids come here to enjoy themselves and that’s a big part of what we do. What I love about YAPA specifically though is we also provide these positive experiences with the intention to show kids how to be successful students and members of their community.” A youth board is responsible for planning the center’s happenings. Right now, many of the board members are 11 and 12-year-olds who are new to being on a committee and representing their peers. Having a young board makes sense. When YAPA first opened in 2005, it served teens ages 13 and up and focused mainly on providing alternative events for high schoolers. As time went on, they moved the age restriction back to 11. Nick says, “It became pretty obvious that middle schoolers needed stuff to do as well, and almost more so, than high schoolers who can drive, have jobs, and earn spending money.” On average, 15 to 30 patrons spend time at YAPA on weekdays, with upward of 30 to 40 walking through the doors on weekends.
Nick served as an assistant supervisor during YAPA’s inaugural year. He later went on to work as a teacher elsewhere before returning to the youth center in 2017. His decision to rejoin the YAPA crew had a lot to do with how highly he thinks of the facility. “Sometimes you run into adults who used to come to YAPA as kids. They’ve lived in other cities that don’t have a center like this and they say, ‘Wow, what we had growing up was really a great opportunity.’ The activities here can point kids in a good direction by helping them land their first job or developing a skill they can put on a college application, or even just finding a new hobby that they enjoy. The fact that we value those things here speaks a lot for Aberdeen.”
Along with Nick, a group of part-time assistant supervisors works at the YAPAtorium. Supervisors take on a mentorship-type role when relating with YAPA students, and choosing the right staff is key. Nick says the team he has now is very dedicated to what they do. “We’re here to have conversations with the kids—to make jokes and do activities together. It’s about giving them the chance to have more positive interactions with adults, even if that’s as simple as being available if someone wants to play a board game.” The center receives some public funding as an agency of Aberdeen Parks & Rec, but staffing is made possible primarily by fundraising and grants. To raise money, you can often find YAPA students and staff behind the concession stand at the Civic Arena or selling their specialty, waffle sandwiches, at city-wide events. Nick says YAPA stays active year-round in these efforts. The good news is it doesn’t feel like work most of the time. “The kids are so bright and funny and just good company. My body might feel tired after a long weekend of concessions, but mentally it feels good that we worked hard and achieved what we set out to do.” He acknowledges that many people who support YAPA aren’t necessarily coming forward because they’re hungry, but because they want to see the organization remain in the community.
To keep going for the generations to come, the YAPAtorium will have to continue listening to its regular patrons. It has always been the kids who make YAPA what it is, and they’ll be the ones to take it into the future. Nick says, “It used to be concerts that brought kids to the center, now that’s less popular and we’ve switched to gaming nights and holiday parties. We’re always willing to shift our programming in that way so they’ll keep attending what we have to offer.” In recent years they’ve added new events to welcome international students to Aberdeen, as well as more opportunities for kids to get outside, like their weekend morning “skate church” sessions at the skatepark. No matter what YAPA does next, what will remain consistent is their purpose: being the young people’s place. Nick says, “We want kids to look back on the time they spent at YAPA and see it was this place that required nothing or little and gave so much. That’s what I’m hoping.” // – Jenny Roth
To get in touch with the YAPAtorium, call 605-626-3595 or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheYAPAtorium.