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Pine River-Backus Summer Youth Program keeps kids active, fed

One activity for students at the Pine River-Backus Summer Youth Program competed to carry a canoe through cones as a part of their Nature Survival Week's Amazing Race. Submitted Photo

The Pine River-Backus (PR-B) Family Center's popular Terrific Tuesdays summer activities were cancelled this year, but only to make way for a Summer Youth Program.

Similar to Terrific Tuesdays, the youth program sessions are longer and there are more of them. Rather than hosting area youths on Tuesdays this summer, the family center, in cooperation with PR-B Community Education and The Warehouse in Pine River, is gathering students for enrichment programs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. several days a week for six weeks. First- through sixth-graders meet Mondays through Wednesdays, and older students meet Thursdays.

"I know in the strategic planning for the school one of the areas we talked about was enrichment activities. I think this is a really good start," said Leslie Bouchonville, family center executive director.

The program started June 16 with a sports themed week. The following week was an outdoor activity and survival themed week featuring classes and activities on life skills, packing backpacks, dressing in layers and an "Amazing Race" activity challenging students to put the week's earlier lessons to the test. Though kids are learning, they are doing it in ways that are fun.

"You're not just sending your child to be babysat during the day. They're learning applicable life skills, things they can use later in life or that might be useful to them," said Bobby Brunhuber, Americorps Promise Fellow for PR-B Schools.

"We've gotten to do scavenger hunts, hiking, dancing, soccer, volleyball, frisbee golf. If you can think of it as a kids activity, we're probably doing it," said Becky Walker, Americorps Vista summer associate for the program and Pine River resident.

Walker said the enrichment activities are not only useful to keep kids entertained, but to help them to retain what they have learned between school years.

"The purpose would be to provide enrichment activities to help kids retain the knowledge they gain during the school year. When they go back to school they will be better able to retain what they learned last year. I think the purpose is to give kids something to do and help them learn skills," Walker said.

From Monday to Wednesday the program taps the expertise and knowledge of local individuals, organizations and businesses such as MinnAqua and the Just for Kix dance group.

"The Youth Summer Program is really a collaborative effort between community organizations to bring an education enriching and fun program to students throughout the summer. We went at it via the idea of theming different weeks to draw on interests and we do fun activities as well as engage them in learning more about anything from sports to outdoor things and water, and giving them perspective on how to learn almost without knowing they are," said Rachel Bigger, Americorps Promise Fellow for PR-B Schools. "They definitely need something enriching for their summer life."

Aside from summer activity and learning, arrangements have made the summer program convenient for youth who live outside of Pine River. The program's Americorps Promise Fellows are both licensed to drive the school vans, so they are able to pick up and drop off students at activity bus pickup locations.

In addition, The Warehouse was awarded a grant to provide meals for students in the summer program and any other PR-B children who show up during the program.

"We know there are a lot of kids in our community that don't get lunch, so we are providing lunch for that six-week time period to any school-aged child in the community. All of that will be based out of The Warehouse. The Warehouse will be the dropoff point, the pickup point for all of these programs. Maybe we won't always be there, but that will be the point. Sharon (Fey) is hiring a cook to do the meals. We're hoping this is something the kids will want to be a part of during the summer," said Bouchonville.

The program is taking a break this holiday week, but will return July 7 with "Fit and Fun" week, which will focus on carnival type activities, backyard games, dance lessons, crafts, instructions on bicycle repair and staying fit through activity.

Brunhuber said groups have been bigger than expected so far, but there is no limit to the number of kids they can lead, thanks to volunteers.

Registration is $25 per family or $15 per student. For those who would like help paying, scholarships are available.

"It costs nothing if the family is in need," Brunhuber said.