All children — whether they are learning to read or applying for college — need the support of caring adults and the opportunity to explore their potential. For 8th grader Adrian Cyrus, the McGaw YMCA has provided both during the most challenging time of his young life.
Four years ago, Adrian’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As he began middle school and entered his teen years, Adrian needed a safe space to express himself and talk through issues with trusted adults.
Then he discovered MetaMedia, McGaw YMCA’s digital media and technology center that is free to middle school students.
“I don’t know what I would do without this place,” Adrian says. “I have some struggles at home and I don’t feel like I have role models I can look up to. Even if MetaMedia didn’t have this music lab or any of it, just knowing I’ve made these connections with these people and this place makes all the difference.”
Since it opened in March 2015, MetaMedia has served more than 1,200 youth, meeting a critical need for a safe place for middle school students after school and during summer vacation. MetaMedia offers programming that focuses on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Design, and Math) while encouraging independent learning and creative collaboration.
In a recent survey, 98 percent of youth said they feel safe at MetaMedia. These middle schoolers report learning a variety of new skills, from “how to use the 3D printer” to “not being afraid to meet new people” and learning “that there is hope.” Perhaps just as important, more than three quarters of those surveyed reported having a good relationship with at least one staff member.
When Adrian started coming to MetaMedia regularly as a 6th grader, he quickly bonded with instructor and spoken-word poet Samuel Carroll over their love of poetry and music. Samuel himself had been mentored by Mike Hawkins, a Chicago poet and multi-media educator, when he was a teen.
Adrian has since won MetaMedia-sponsored “maker” competitions, and recently travelled with Samuel to Washington D.C. to perform his rap music at a national showcasing event. The trip reminded Samuel of a similar adventure he took with Mike years ago.
“My favorite moment on the trip,” Samuel says, “was when Adrian realized that I was taking him to the same places my mentor took me, and he said, ‘It’s almost like you’re passing the torch!’ And I was. And I will continue to because the only way to ensure mentees turn into mentors is to pass that love forward.”
Adrian’s mother, Nazy Cyrus, says the social-emotional support provided by the staff has been a tremendous asset for Adrian. But she also says MetaMedia is providing life skills for youth, such as stepping outside their comfort zones and working hard to see projects through to completion.
“I can’t tell you how happy we are to have MetaMedia,” she says. “And we’re proud that it is free and open to kids who could not afford it, especially considering how hard it is to be that age.”
In fact, the McGaw YMCA ensures that Evanston youth have access to four free programs designed to ensure student success throughout childhood. Along with MetaMedia, McGaw strengthens literacy skills for young students in our summer learning programs; its mentoring program Project SOAR provides life-changing relationships with caring adults; and Y Achievers changes the direction for high school students at risk of dropping out by supporting and guiding them toward brighter futures.
This fiscal year, the McGaw YMCA plans to invest more than $1 million in these free youth development programs. A significant source of funding comes from the generous sponsors and attendees of the McGaw YMCA Annual Youth Gala. This year’s Gala, “Spotlight on Youth,” will be held Jan. 21, 2017, and will feature a silent and live auction. Tickets for this signature event are available here.
Though Adrian enters high school next year, he can’t imagine not spending time at MetaMedia. He’s hoping to become a mentor, just as Samuel has been for him. His dream is to pursue soccer in college (he currently plays on two teams), but he also hopes to study poetry and perhaps engineering.
Adrian has become something of a spokesperson during MetaMedia showcases, and this is what he likes to tell first-time visitors:
“Maybe you just see kids on computers, but the people who work here, they really change lives,” Adrian says. “I never would have pursued poetry or music or even had a mentor if it wasn’t for this place. I wouldn’t be me without MetaMedia and the Y.”
You can help youth like Adrian in our community by making a donation here.