How this beloved, 90-year-old community center continues to be a haven for so many to this day
Isaac Remsen via Capital One
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Capital One

Yvonne Gittens, or Ms. G, as most everyone calls her, practically grew up at the Cambridge Community Center (CCC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She started going to their after-school program when she was in the second or third grade, and basically became a fixture of the place from that point on.

How she ended up there was no accident — her parents and their siblings went there as kids, as well.

"My joke is that I was conceived there," says Ms. G.

"When I was a kid, it was a safe place to be," she continues. "Everybody in the neighborhood went. It was inexpensive. I think we paid 50 cents a year for our membership."

The CCC was founded by a group of black pastors over 90 years ago because the other local community center was for whites-only at the time. In response to the blatant racial inequality and lack of opportunities for black community members, they created a haven for youth and adults alike from one of the few underserved communities in Cambridge; offering a variety of programs and services designed to help close the economic and generational gaps that still exist in the city. But perhaps most importantly, it's a place where people can feel at home and connected to a support system.

It's no surprise that families like Ms. G's keep sticking around, and that community members like her have woven the Center into the fabric of their lives. Once she was old enough, Ms. G got her first job at the Center checking kids into the program. Then she was a camp counselor teaching archery and swimming. When she became a parent, she sent her kids there, and now her kids send their kids. But over 30 years ago, she made an even bigger commitment to the Center — she became a board member.

Ms. G started off as a regular board member, but quickly moved to treasurer, and then onto secretary. Soon enough she was named the board president, overseeing all the Center's operations.


"I held all the offices," says Ms. G.

The most challenging position was when former executive director Janet "Ms. K" Kendrick suddenly passed away and Ms. G became the interim director. The CCC was in danger of closing, but Ms. G says the board members "rallied together to keep the center afloat" no matter what.

"Through all of its tough times, it never closed its doors," she says.

Isaac Remsen via Capital One

Aside from the steadfast commitment of its members, the Center has stayed alive all these years thanks to the incredible support from local organizations and businesses, like Harvard University, MIT, and Capital One.

Since 2016, Capital One has helped bolster the Center in a number of ways. Most recently, they helped renovate the Center's tech lab for the youth who use it every day. In partnership with Capital One, the new tech lab has also launched a digital literacy and digital banking program for seniors in January 2020 called Ready, Set, Bank.

"We worked in partnership with the Center to ensure that the new space would meet the current needs of the people who use it every day," says Aarón Almada, Community Affairs Manager at Capital One. "Our local Boston Café teams helped to assemble furniture and put the finishing touches on the lab before its grand unveiling to the community."

"They are there pretty much whenever we need them, and sometimes they're volunteering to be there for us when we haven't even thought to ask," says Darrin Korte, Executive Director of the CCC.

"Dom Orion and Deb Auslander are the best," says Ms. G. "As Capital One Ambassadors, they have done so many things for the Center. In addition to volunteering their time, teaching financial education workshops and forming long lasting relationships with our members, they also bring us coffee and pastries for the Ready, Set, Bank class each week."

The program will be run by Tech Goes Home, another Capital One nonprofit partner that aims to empower communities to use digital tools and overcome technological barriers. They provide the curriculum and support needed for the program, while CCC will provide the participants and host the program in the newly refreshed tech lab.

Ms. G is largely responsible for bringing the digital literacy program to the seniors in the community. As a senior herself, she often struggles with technology that's supposed to help make business and everyday life easier.

"I've got an iPad at home that I can't even find," she says. "I got so frustrated with it that I put it away."

Needless to say, she knows how valuable such a course will be to other senior citizens in the community. She thinks that it's important that they become more tech-savvy so that they can better protect their personal information on the internet — an area where personal information is most vulnerable.

"It gives the seniors an opportunity to gain knowledge in a small group setting with other seniors, says Ms. G. "The fact that they are learning from people in the banking industry gives them confidence that they are getting good solid, reliable information."

The program teaches people how to use banking apps, busts myths about privacy and security, and empowers community members to take control of their money by learning how to check balances, deposit checks, pay bills and send money from their phones.

Even though the program is provided by Capital One, there's no pressure to sign up with or switch over to the banking institution — the organization simply wants to help people become more knowledgeable and empowered when it comes to their finances.

Ultimately, all parties involved aim to enrich the lives of people in the community. In fact, that seems to be the guiding principle behind the CCC and Capital One. "When we find people to invest who truly believe in our work, truly special things can happen," says Korte.

"It's more than the financial support. It's the people that are real, everyday people," says Ms G.

Beyond that, the CCC's supporters are helping to perpetuate a place where so many people, young and senior alike, feel safe, valued and inspired to become their best selves.

In that way, it offers much more than enrichment. "The Center is home. It's family. It's connection. It's relationships," Korte continues. And as long as caring members like Ms. G and partners like Capital One are around, it will remain that way for local individuals and families who rely on it.

To learn more about the Capital One's Ready, Set, Bank program, visit www.readysetbank.org.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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