Youth center supports families

Gloria Willis-Smith, 30th Force Support Squadron school-age program coordinator, interacts with youth center children during snack-time, Nov. 14, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. From orchestrating snack-time for Kindergartners, to expanding pre-teens’ cultural and environmental education, the youth center employees create a diverse syllabus, catering to a wide-array of ages. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shane Phipps/Released)

Gloria Willis-Smith, 30th Force Support Squadron school-age program coordinator, interacts with youth center children during snack-time, Nov. 14, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. From orchestrating snack-time for Kindergartners, to expanding pre-teens’ cultural and environmental education, the youth center employees create a diverse syllabus, catering to a wide-array of ages. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shane Phipps/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With the military lifestyle often presenting unique challenges to families, the Air Force facilitates comprehensive programs, which aim to reduce the burden on families.

One such way this is accomplished is with outlets like the 30th Force Support Squadron youth center which boasts a myriad of structured platforms for Kindergarten through high school age children, from around base.

"I'm in charge of a truly multifaceted youth program," said Karen Cook, 30th FSS director of youth programs. "This includes school-age child care, instructional programs, youth and teen open recreational programs, sports leagues, (Head, Hands, Heart, Health, or 4-H) and we are also a Boys & Girls Club of America."

From orchestrating snack-time for Kindergartners, to expanding pre-teens' cultural and environmental education, the youth center employees create a diverse syllabus, catering to a wide-array of ages.

"I run the 4-H aspect of our program," said Carola Murdock, 30th FSS recreation specialist.  "I also offer a cooking club and photography club. In addition, I've put an emphasis on the fine arts. This month we have explored the artist, Gustav Klimt, and we have made paintings based on his work. Overall, I focus on the higher-level learning activities for the older kids."

For the dedicated members of the youth center, their work is often more than just a job - it's their calling.

"Our main focus is changing lives," said Calvin Tucker II, 30th FSS child youth program assistant. "We always ask ourselves, 'how can we change a kid's life? How can we make their day better?' Sometimes we even act as counselors, we're here for whatever they may need. In all the activities we plan and all the things we offer, our goal is to be that home away from home. To me that is the definition of force support. We're helping to build futures and developing adults to keep this thing called the world going."

In addition to garnering a sterling reputation among the base populace, Vandenberg's youth center has been recognized outside the Department of Defense.

"The school-aged program here is nationally accredited by a civilian agency, not just through our DoD inspections," said Cook. "During our accreditation, the inspector was on his 90th inspection and he was extremely impressed with our program."

The youth center staff also aims to teach the importance of philanthropy in the children's local community.

"We help the older children understand the world." said Tucker. "We've taken them to homeless shelters to help out. We want them to know and appreciate the opportunities they have and give back to their communities."

For Cook, it's all about contributing to an organization which did so much for her while she faced the challenges of a military lifestyle.

"I have been in this field for 20 years," she said. "My children were brought up in the youth center system and without it, we wouldn't have had the same family connection. That was really important to me, so now I want to pass that on and really care for these children like they are my own."