By Ariel Worthy
Times staff writer
“What flavor ice cream are we going to eat today?” ballet instructor Amanda Vasquez asks her students as they stretch for the day’s class.
“Strawberry!” A young ballerina exclaimed.
“Alright, let’s eat strawberry ice cream!” Vasquez exclaimed as they pretended to stretch in a position as if they were eating ice cream.
These Thursday dance classes are just one of the many activities at the YWCA Family Resource Center in Woodlawn. The Y has brought a number of services to the area including cooking classes, GED classes and a homeless shelter.
The resource center has partnered with Americorp to give families in the community resources such as in-house case managers to help with housing, bill assistance, job hunting and other needs. All services are free of charge.
Kenyatta Tate, an education specialist and Americorp team member, said they provide activities that people in the area would not be able to afford.
For example, there are cooking classes called, Let’s Cook. The center buys all of the food for the recipes and teaches the families how to cook. Many of the 30-minute-or-less meals can feed a family of four and are under $11.
“Parents can’t just drop the kids off. They have to come and participate and help them cut up the meats,” said Tate, 33. “It’s a family-building program. We want them to be involved too.”
One of the cooking instructors, Tiara Lavender, has been part of the center since last year. The Ramsay High School senior can be found at the Resource Center on Mondays and Tuesdays tutoring children and teaching cooking classes.
“I love giving back to the community and the programs that they have there . . . with some of the families if they need help with new recipes I enjoy being able to help them with that,” Lavender said.
The Y also holds dance and music classes for both children and adults. Currently, 9-year-old A.J. Howard is practicing a piano duet for a recital at Alys Stephens Center next month.
“We don’t just teach them piano and leave it at that,” piano instructor Pat Bowman Billups said. “We teach them music theory; we work on their movement. Each approach is designed at the individual student’s pace.”
During the summertime, the center pays special attention to teenagers in the community. A program within the center, Creative Responsible Educated Working (C.R.E.W.) Team, is offered to high school students where they are placed in a work site.
The C.R.E.W. program allows participants to work indoor and outdoor jobs; acquire skills such as resume writing and interview techniques and take special trips once a week.
“We call them Enrichment Trips. They go to local colleges, like Samford University, and get a chance to visit some work places like the Mercedes Plant and they also receive a small stipend.” Tate said.
The Enrichment program exposes students to different occupations and gives them the opportunity to see what they enjoy.
“Some may work in landscaping, some may work in the library, some work at the Civil Rights Institute,” Tate said. “We give them a variety of offers.”
The Americorp team has seen some of their students grow from the program. For example, Lavender will be in a foreign exchange program – Birmingham Sister City Commission – in Hitachi, Japan. The program is offered through the mayor’s office.
Jennifer Thomas, a Healthy Living specialist and Americorp member, said she’s been impressed with Lavender’s progress over the past year.
“I really saw her blossom because she’s very introverted and I think C.R.E.W. helped her see that there’s still a place for her,” Thomas said. “She might not have the loudest voice, but she’s still able to see team building and places where her peers respected her through those eight weeks of working together [at C.R.E.W.]. I think building her confidence in the program has encouraged her to share more of herself than she would have before.”
Lavender has been accepted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and will be attending in the fall and studying psychology and minoring in a foreign language –either French or Japanese.
Lavender said she speaks some Japanese and is looking forward to the trip to Hatachi in May.
“The news made my entire year,” she said. “I’m excited because I get to learn about their culture, and I get to teach them about mine; but I get to actually experience their culture.”
The Family Resource Center is located at 100 59th Street South in the Woodlawn neighborhood. For more information and volunteer opportunities, contact them at 205-949-5552.