NORTH TONAWANDA – In the five years since Alex Domaradzki took over the Youth Center, his experiments to attract new kids have been working, with more coming for clubs that feature science experiments, hip-hop dance lessons, videomaking classes along with the classic basketball league play that drew him as a teen.
“I love the job,” said Domaradzki before elaborating on why. “Obviously, just working with the kids. They’re always energetic. They breathe life into you everyday.”
Domaradzki, 28, started working part time at the Youth Center 10 years ago after coming to play basketball as a teen. For five years, he worked part time while he got a bachelor’s degree in biology at Medaille College. When the former director retired, he took over the job and finished his master’s degree in education at the University at Buffalo.
He has taken an educational approach to some of the new features at the center, which now draws about 70 to 80 kids a day. After he asked staff to suggest ideas, people volunteered to start video and dance clubs for interested kids. Domaradzki applies some of his science know-how to a club that does experiments, often with fizzy ingredients. He’s learned the messier, the better.
In a recent effort he called “exploding foam,” they mixed hydrogen peroxide with soap and yeast.
“You never know what’s going to happen. You think you thought some of these ideas out,” he said. “The foam hit the ceiling, and it was flying all over the place. The kids were trying to get in the way of it. It was just a giant mess, and they absolutely loved it.”
Center hours are divided into two parts: earlier for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade: Their programming goes from about 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. during the week. After the younger kids leave, students in 7th through 12th grade come. Check www.ntyouthcenter.webs.com for a detailed schedule, including weekend hours.
The hardest thing, said Domaradzki is to get the word out.
“For some reason,” he said, “every year some people don’t know it exists.”
The center has just moved from the former Lowry Middle School to a former elementary school on Grant Street, which has the added benefit of an auditorium where movies can be shown on a big screen, which featured a holiday lineup – How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey – last Friday.
Next Friday, there will be Christmas parties with cookie decorating, a Christmas carol singing contest, a Jeopardy-style Christmas trivia game and relay race involving wrapping and unwrapping a box.
Reasons to drop in for the festivities include the chance for kids to make new friends, he said.
“It’s a way to get them off the couch, if that’s what they do,” he said. “A lot parents find it relieving that they can drop the kids off somewhere … It’s still a nice place to have your kids supervised and give the parents a little time to themselves.”
What are some of the other reasons for kids to come by?
Some of the kids that come here ... It’s kind of a safety valve for them. It lets them get away from home. It’s a safe alternative to smoking and drinking.
Is there any particular kind of kid that comes?
It is a mix. We do have kids that just come for a video club or a science club. We do have kids that come everyday.
You came to the center when you were growing up in NT?
I was one of the kids that went for the athletic type of things. I always went to the open gym time for basketball. In college, I played baseball. In high school, I played baseball and basketball. It was definitely a place to meet new people. Going to school you don’t always associate with certain people.
Kids develop these cliques in school. You’re ultimately labeled a geek or a jock or a tech person or a drama person.
So the youth center is kind of a place where everything is offered. People come together in some aspect, and you’re in close proximity. You’d never sit with these kids in lunch … because you never thought you had anything in common. Just the fact of it prepares them, and in life when you start working, you might be working with someone they may not have the same interests as you. Just growing up in a place where you’re around a lot of different personalities, you learn to accept. It prepares you, a little bit, how to be social with all different kinds of people.
Can you tell me about a memorable experience?
Some of these kids come to the Youth Center so often you develop these close relationships. I actually had a kid twice call me, “Dad” before. Just a slip of the tongue. It was just nice to realize that you’re not just there.
We did do, last year, a very cool anti-bullying video. The kids decided to do a commercial on why bullying is bad, and that was probably one of my favorites because it has a very solid component to it.
A lot of the videos they do are kiddish. They’re funny videos that deal with silly things.
It’s kind of a mature topic. The message about how bullying is not cool and it hurts other people, it was a good idea.
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