For the last 20 years, director Jim Tinger has guided the New Paltz Youth Program. Now, as the program celebrates its 25th anniversary, he reflects on its impact on the community.
“We offer something,” he said over the phone, “between eight o’clock in the morning and eleven at night …. We’re trying to make sure we offer as much as we can.”
The program began in a side-room at St. Joseph Catholic Church, eventually moving to the middle school. After a survey of middle-school kids conducted due to “issues with delinquency in town,” according to Tinger, a youth center was purchased in 1989. This building, a former residence, is still in use today.
When Tinger first began volunteering with the youth program in 1994, he was a sociology major at SUNY New Paltz. The then-director, Alex Brown, asked him to check out the program and its drop-in center.
“They didn’t really have any educational programming,” said Tinger, especially after school and on the weekends, which, he notes, “is when kids are most at risk.”
He helped start a tutoring program at the middle school, “me and a couple of college students tutoring some kids after school.” This program has been vastly expanded. “We tutor in 25 classrooms throughout the day at the middle school,” explained Tinger.
After the top position opened up, Tinger applied. He got the job. Since then, the program has only grown.
“Kids get in trouble or face more challenges when they’re bored,” Tinger said, “so we’re trying to cure that by offering as many programs as possible that are of interest to them.”
Over the years the program has started creative writing groups, field trips, game nights, and more. “We’re free to try things out,” he said. “I feel like we’ve tried every type of program here at the youth center.” The program has changed as the population has changed. “It’s nice to have that freedom.”
Tinger said he is most proud of the youth center on Main Street near the middle school. “It’s the only place in the area where you have adult supervision in a place where kids hang out after school.”
“Professional adults, too,” he added. “I’m a certified social worker.”
Tinger’s main concern is that “the program continues.” He cites a need for transportation, especially on field trips. He would also like to find a way to employ kids.
Most importantly, however, he said that some parents don’t let their kids attend the youth programs or go to the center. “To see that … some kids are being prevented from coming here is really sad.”
Tinger wants to reach as many kids as possible. He’s afraid that the center’s reputation for containing “bad kids” gives some parents the wrong impression.
“Maybe they get in trouble with school work, but when they come here they’re very respectful,” he said. “These are community children. I’ve never heard a complaint from someone who’s actually been here.”
For Tinger, the program’s anniversary provides an opportunity for community members to appreciate its purpose anew. “To have a place where kids can go after school,” he said, “and be supervised by adults? I think that’s a very important thing, and a vital resource in the community.”