When I started at UNI, I was 12 years old. I started in one of the programs that I currently oversee, the afterschool program. As a participant, I enjoyed it so much. However, I didn't really know everything that had to take place to prepare and ensure that everything is in place. Now that I'm at the other end, it's really opened up my eyes to a deeper level of gratitude and appreciation for the staff who were there when I was a youth. And [that experience helps] to ensure that I do my part to ensure that the youth have what I had and even more.
DAVID SANDS | WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2023
Alejandra Gomez is the education initiatives director for Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI), a community development organization based in Southwest Detroit. Much of her work involves supervising afterschool and out-of-school activities for the youth UNI serves.
What can you tell us about the need for supplemental educational initiatives in Southwest Detroit?
It is definitely crucial. We've heard from parents and even from youth about the need for having a space where youth can learn and have fun while being able to connect. Many of the youth of Southwest Detroit speak two languages. Connecting with staff that also speak two languages in the afterschool space is something that we try to incorporate. We also partner with organizations that offer different types of programming, from art to music to cooking and gymnastics. Our programs also take into consideration the work schedule for parents. It's a lot easier for parents to pick up their kids later – instead of having to leave work at 2:00 or 2:30.
What afterschool and out-of-school programming do you supervise?
I currently oversee all of our afterschool and out-of-school type programs for youth who are 14 and younger. We currently have programming at different DPS community schools. I also oversee an Americorps program that does mentorship at five charter schools in Detroit. We work with mostly K through 8th grade students. Our K through 5th grade programming includes support with homework and reading. We also have icebreakers, reflection, and things like that.
With our middle school students, we use the 9th Grade Counts curriculum that goes into community development as well as a five-year plan for school. Our 6th to 8th grade students are asked about what they want to do past high school. With that, they're able to plan backwards and say, "OK. What do I need to know as a [middle schooler and in high school] to be able to get to that point?" It helps them to plan for their education past their current grade and past high school, to be able to persist during college.