Madrigal Youth Center provides safe haven for kids
By Victoria Brayton , 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 06, 2007
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- A young girl with curly blond hair offers a boy some of her 'chocolate milk,' but he smugly refuses her, announcing he knows it's actually a cup of mixed paints before resuming his game of pool, shooting with the wrong end of a cue stick.
The girl giggles and rejoins her friends outside where, under the direction of Recreation Assistant Renea Learst, they are channeling their inner-artists and painting tiles that adorn the ceiling of the Madrigal Youth Center.
Here, school-age children from 5 to 18 come for summer camp and a variety of other sports programs and activities to learn and stay entertained throughout the day.
Raymond Talbott, director of youth programs, said there are about 25 children enrolled in the summer camp and about 102 involved in the school-age program. Children are dropped off in the morning, transported to and from school and entertained until their parents are free to pick them up after work.
"If there's a theme to this operation, it is to provide kids a safe haven while providing them with the opportunity for growth," Mr. Talbott said.
With separate rooms for pre-teens and teens, as well as numerous activity rooms such as sewing, piano instruction and gymnastics, the Madrigal Youth Center has a lot to offer.
Young children who want to try gymnastics for the first time get a chance to experience the basics. Mr. Talbott joked that the modest room really gives the children "body awareness," since some youngsters still need "to figure out where their hands and feet and knees are."
Just before lunch, kids crowd Ms. Learst at the snack bar where they are fed meals and can purchase snacks during the day. One girl asked for help opening a Gatorade bottle while Ms. Learst directed two more to help wash the bowls they just used while learning to make banana bread from scratch.
"I like to interact with the children and teach them new things," Ms. Learst said as she opened the girl's drink. She said they also teach children principles of citizenship and leadership through activities and community service projects.
Additionally, the center coordinates with many different camps including Camp Purple, a camp for children whose parents are deployedm, and Space Camp, in Alabama. Some of these programs require application processes and interviews.
"A lot of things are kid-driven," Mr. Talbott said of the coordinated camp opportunities. "They decide what they want to compete for."
Each year the Air Force Services Agency conducts an intense and unannounced week-long inspection, looking at about 181 items.
"The goal is to make sure we're doing the right thing for the kids," Mr. Talbott said, adding that he is not worried about passing their upcoming inspection.
The center closely follows its regulations, like the staff-to-child ratio of at least one-to-12, and even offers more than the minimum directed. Expanding their coverage, the center extends their facilities past active duty military and Department of Defense children to kids of retired military members with Sheppard connections as well.
"It's a good place," Ms. Learst said. "We wish we had more (kids) come!"
As staff members watch over children playing board games and using computers, a few kids spy on hiding guinea pigs Lily and Spice, the furrier members of the Madrigal Youth Center, while another group happily gathers in the pre-teen room to watch a movie together.