When Debbie Skinner looks back on her last 10 years at the helm of Sag Harbor’s YARD program, one thought comes to her head.
“That was fast,” says Skinner.
YARD stands for Youth Advocacy Resource Development. The non-profit program, which has its own board and operates under the umbrella of the Sag Harbor School District, was designed a decade ago to create recreational opportunities for middle and high school students — particularly those who don’t take part in traditional offerings for teens.
“From the beginning, the program was designed to reach out to at-risk youth and kids with unstructured time on their hands,” explains Skinner. “Not everyone plays sports — this is a good outlet for them.”
YARD’s flagship offering is the Safe Summer Beach Program which is held on Long Beach every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the summer.
“Right from the very beginning, they wanted the beach program to be the anchor program of YARD,” recalls Skinner who explained the program was modeled on other programs on Long Island, including one at Smith Point Park.
“It took off immediately,” says Skinner of YARD’s beach program. “There’s a lot of free time in the summer and we were serving kids at a time when they were available to be served.”
Southampton Town’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees Long Beach, provides lighting and other equipment for YARD’s program. Teens come to the beach to skateboard in the parking lot, play basketball or just hang out with friends.
“Some of them just want to sit on the lifeguard stand and watch the sun go down,” says Skinner.
There are also special offerings, including movies on the beach, which the town offers each summer, and a night when local teen bands take the stage.
Skinner notes that while the Smith Point Park program has since ended due to the threat of West Nile Virus, the Sag Harbor program is going strong.
“We probably had over 2,400 kids this summer,” says Skinner. “I have a lot of kids from England. We’ve had them from Paris, Germany, London, Chile, Ireland.”
“That’s the best part of the beach program,” she adds. “It is the fabulous Hamptons, so people do come from all over the world. There’s so much exposure for our kids to meet kids from other places. They make friendships they wouldn’t have made otherwise, and they’ll go to the ocean together the next day or correspond via email.”
But YARD’s offerings don’t end with summer. Skinner notes that one of the program’s most important functions begins with the final bell of the school day. That’s when Pierson students who are between activities or not yet ready to go home come and socialize in YARD’s community room at the school.
“It’s a place of transition,” explains Skinner. “Some kids go there right after school and wait for the parents to pick them up. Some go there after homework club. Some go and wait for a 3 p.m. practice to start, or for a 4:30 game. Some have play practice and go there when it’s not their scene.”
With the colder months approaching, YARD will soon be starting the Saturday open recreation night where students can burn off a little steam with activities in the school gym. New this year is equipment that will allow Skinner to offer movies on a big screen.
“We also do bus trips during the school holidays, like cosmic bowl which we do the night after Thanksgiving,” add Skinner. “It’s always a very popular trip.”
After 10 years, when asked if YARD has in fact influenced those kids it was designed to reach, Skinner says, “Just participating has probably changed the track for many kids. I think if you’re offering something to the children that is of interest for them, you’ll reach them.”
This Saturday, it’s the adults YARD is looking to reach with its annual fundraising cocktail party and silent auction from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at B. Smith’s Restaurant on Long Wharf. Admission is $25 and guest of honor will be Joan Frisicano, principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School.
Given the current economic woes, Skinner worries that YARD may feel the pinch in the coming year. She is hoping for a good turnout at the cocktail party.
“The fundraiser is a very big deal,” says Skinner. “With the economy the way it is a lot of funders of our program are cutting back. Suffolk County Youth Bureau usually gives us 15 percent, they’re cutting back to eight percent. I’ve heard from another source an impending cut is probably coming.”
“We’re working to keep our own safety net beneath us,” she adds. “We don’t know what’s on the horizon.”
For more information on the fundraiser, call 725-5302 ext. 750.
The flasghip program for YARD is the Safe Summer Beach Program which hosts an annual Battle of the Bands