A skinny third-grade girl in a bright pink shirt edged toward a set of high monkey bars on a recent sunny afternoon, but balked at the sound of an authoritative voice.
“Careful, Asly,” yelled Thanh Vo, an East Hampton High School senior and Project MOST youth worker, last Friday. He stood nearby observing a group of children climbing around at the Springs School playground. Earlier that day, Thanh brought in a couple of pizza pies for his students—for no reason in particular. Last year he gave his students free guitar lessons.
“I have a really close bond with all my third-graders,” he said. “They deserved it. They’re really special to me.”
Thanh belongs to a group of about 35 youth workers employed by Project MOST, a program that aims to enrich the after-school lives of kindergarten through eighth grade students who might otherwise spend their hours watching television or playing video games. On Thursday, May 2, the organization’s executive Director Tim Bryden said he plans to take the youth employees out for a nice lunch in honor of “Thank a Youth Worker Day,” a movement backed by several national groups who’ve declared “an international day of celebrating youth workers,” according to a website dedicated to the cause. Project MOST is one of its partners.
The idea of honoring youth workers struck a chord with Mr. Bryden, who said many of his part-time young staffers are high school and college-age students who work hard to both balance school and employment. Celebrating youth workers is important, he said.
“I think they’re a silent population, in a way,” Mr. Bryden said. “I think in general when we’re talking about youth, we tend, I think…to stereotype and often portray youth in the media in negative ways.”
Project MOST’s youth workers serve about 300 registered kindergarten through eighth grade-aged school children in both the Springs and East Hampton school districts, according to Rebecca Morgan Taylor, the program coordinator, and Martha Stotzky, the site supervisor at Springs School. The two led a tour of the program after school last Friday. Activities included things like cooking, sports and academic enrichment.
Most of the youth workers are between 17 and 22, said Ms. Stotzky. Project MOST has in the past employed older youth counselors, but Ms. Stotzky said the younger employees seem to connect better with students.
“That’s a great age because they can relate to the kids in a certain way,” she said. “They look at me and they think I’m 100, whereas with that age, they want to emulate them, and they’re just really good role models.”
Mr. Bryden concurred with that assessment. “They’re the kids’ heroes,” he said. “Kids love them.”
The youth staff is paid between $9.75 to $10.25 an hour, Mr. Bryden said. Some of the employees really rely on the income, he added. “For a lot of the kids, this is a major source of financial support for them.”
Many of the students surveyed about their youth leaders had similar things to say about them. Children said that Gabby Green, a youth worker and high school student, was “really nice.” They said that in general the youth workers help them with their homework, keep them active and play with them. College freshman Thomas Bennett got a shout-out from by his students for bringing in Sour Patch candies recently.
Project MOST student employees are known to put a smile on kids’ faces.
“If we’re sad, they try to help us figure out the problem,” said Brian, a fifth-grader