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Day in the Life: Youth center employee offers hands-on guidance

Felisa Matthews, youth center program assistant, helps Selah Laforge and Piper Mitchell with a sewing project April 21 at the youth center. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Felisa Matthews, youth center program assistant, helps Selah Laforge and Piper Mitchell with a sewing project April 21 at the youth center. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Published: April 24, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 24, 2014) -- There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and the efforts of Fort Rucker Youth Center program assistants give credence to that theory.

Felisa Matthews works with local youth every day with different activities at the center, ensuring they are “doing right” and that everything goes smooth and there are no conflicts in an activity room.

But although she enjoys her hands-on work with the children she interacts with, she said one of her biggest responsibilities as a program assistant is to be there if a child needs her for anything at all.

“We are activity facilitators, and we make sure the children are having a good time and that their needs are met,” she said. “But we also help mentor the children. If any of them have a problem that they want to talk to me about, I am always listening and always here for them.”

Matthews said she is an extra shoulder to cry on if the children need it, or an extra set of ears to help them if they want assistance.

“I like to think that they are my own kids when it comes to giving them advice about school or issues they may be having with another child,” she said. “Sometimes they want to talk to the PAs because they don’t feel like they can talk to their parents or a teacher.

“It makes me feel good that they want to talk to me about something that might be affecting them,” she continued. “And it’s always good to have an extra person in the community (who) is looking out for its youth.”

Although program assistants can give another perspective to a situation, Matthews said if they feel like the situation is important, they will inform parents so they are aware.

“I have to know my place in their lives, as well. Although I hear a lot that their parents probably don’t hear at home, I can’t get too bossy or nosy because I don’t want the children to think that I am up in their business and will tattle on them,” she said. “You have to get close to them so they are comfortable with you, but not too close where they don’t respect you as a mentor.”

Kylah Robinson, a 15-year-old Army Family member, said that Matthews is a wonderful person.

“She always helps out when we ask her, and she is super nice and kind,” she said. “She knows how to be funny and have fun with us. But, she can be serious at the same time, so I really respect her. I always ask her for advice.”

Matthews believes that program assistants at the center help make it a fun place to be, and encourages children to join in the fun instead of staying at home alone.

“Some of the children are old enough to stay at home, and some might not be trouble makers while alone at home, but it’s not about that,” she said. “It’s about enriching their lives as much as possible. Children can get depressed being at home alone every day. It is good to be around your friends in an interactive environment.”

The center couldn’t operate successfully without PAs, and the center helps keep parents strong and focused at work, she added.

“When parents don’t have to worry about what their child is up to after school, and knowing their child is happy and healthy here, they can focus on the mission clearly,” she said.

Matthews has worked with the youth, aged 11-18, for four years and said the job has many challenges, but dealing with adolescent tempers is definitely the most difficult.

“I love seeing the children every day. Their smiles and stories make me smile.  They are a joy to be around,” she said. “I love hearing about their daily lives. I love teaching the children new things. It makes me feel like I am really making a difference in their lives.”

The community would be able to function without youth center services, although it would be a huge shame for the children, said Matthews.

“We are a big help and asset to the community because we help with a multitude of things: homework, bullies, college, non-academic skill sets. We really enhance the quality of life for teens on the installation. I look forward to continuing to help them in their journeys,” she said.

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