When I started a new job in Santa Fe in 2014, my oldest children were 9 and 7. I could not have continued to work, or to live in Santa Fe at all, if not for the city’s completely affordable summer program, run through the Youth and Family Services Division in Community Services.

The program was offered at an elementary school down the road from my house and kept my kids busy, active, and fed from 7:30 am to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. They swam and played pass the flag, did arts and crafts and went on field trips to Cliff’s — and most important, connected with other kids from all over the city. More than 800 were served every summer under the supervision of young councilors they admired.

Victor Vigil, a recreation supervisor who marked his 36th summer with the city after-school and summer program last year, describes the approach: “We allowed the kids to be kids. And as technology became more central in their lives, we encouraged them just to play in the ways we had all done. We nurtured them, became friends with them and their families, and they experienced less isolation. We showed them that it was OK to ask for what they needed, whether seconds on snacks or help with homework.”

Vigil also noted, “Kids shared their struggles with us and we were able to give advice to them and their families. We showed them it was OK for them to be who they are.”

Many who came up through the program as kids went on to start their first jobs working as youth specialists in the program, and many of them have gone on to become teachers or work in other professions that support youth.

The city has long run two after-school and summer city programs: the Youth and Family Services Division program my kids had attended, and the excellent but smaller, more structured, recreation-focused program offered through the Recreation Department out of Genoveva Chavez Community Center. When I became Community Services director for the city in 2018, I joined our staff in planning how the two programs could coordinate better and enhance offerings by bringing in community partners from the Children and Youth Commission and Opportunity Santa Fe network.

This summer, the two city programs have fully merged.

Melissa Bustos, the youth program manager, is excited to welcome kids “to a fun, educational, and COVID-safe environment for our youth to be able to safely socialize, stay active, and enjoy high quality programming at each and every site.” The Community Educators Network will provide variety and new experiences to all summer camp participants. Activities such as circus arts from Wise Fool, projects from the International Folk Art Museum, and other fun and educational programming are being incorporated to allow more kids than ever to experience a varied curriculum of engaging activities.

The program is offered on a sliding scale.

The city of Santa Fe is dedicated to providing a fun, COVID-19-safe, accessible, educational and recreational summer and after-school program. Through a strong, five-year partnership with the Santa Fe Community Foundation’s Opportunity Santa Fe, spearheaded by Youth and Family Services Director Julie Sanchez, the city will now be able to address summer learning loss, math success, literacy, and build an academically enriched and affordable program.

It’s a great opportunity. Spaces in the program and registration opportunities are still available.

“Having the Youth and Family Services Division summer youth and after-school program merge with the recreation department creates not only efficiency and uniformity across programming, it also makes high quality recreational opportunities through GCCC, and soon the South Side Teen Center, accessible to all youth across the city,” Sanchez says.

Here’s to a safe and happy summer.

Kyra Ochoa is director of the city of Santa Fe’s Community Health and Safety Department.

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