Rec Center: St. Charles Recreation Center
While Walter Macias may have only been working at St. Charles Recreation Centers as MY Denver staff or six months, he spent a year before that volunteering with enrichment programs and grew up in the neighborhood surrounding St. Charles. He also currently lives just a couple of blocks from the recreation center. It’s clear he’s passionate about his work and his neighborhood, and talked at length about the challenges the neighborhood faces as well as the strengths residents and the recreation center bring.
Walter is an artist – as a teenager he helped create the murals on the back of the St. Charles Recreation Center facility, and led the creation of a mural by the playground equipment at the center. Now he gets to put his art skills to use by delivering art programming to youth as part of his MY Denver duties, teaching young people graffiti as an art form. He also leads sports activities, especially soccer, which he believes is a universal sport that brings youth of all ethnicities and genders together, and healthier lifestyle activities.
When asked about the changes he’s seen in the neighborhood, Walter has seen a decrease in gang violence since the nineties, as well as an increase in in youth participation at the rec. He’s seen resources and engagement by the community increase, the economy begin to improve, and people trying to change and do something “better with their lives.” He feels the strengths of the neighborhood include the diversity, people coming together helping each other around common struggles, and seeing the different cultures within the neighborhood celebrate life.
Not only does he lead MY Denver activities, his personal commitment to youth extends to helping them break the poverty and gang cycle by assisting in filling out college applications, providing young people with the tools they need to succeed in their neighborhood and beyond. When asked why MY Denver is so successful, Walter cites “freedom.” Freedom to lead activities that the youth are most interested in; freedom to talk with youth and help them through life challenges, in addition to delivering high quality programming.
In fact, it’s recognizing the need of these types of resources for youth that Walter sees even greater potential and reach for MY Denver. He sees an opportunity to bring the recreation centers in the surrounding neighborhoods together—Swansea, St. Charles, and Stapleton—to “bridge the gap” between communities, bring the youth together to help each other, and have older teens mentor younger ones. Walter sees greater opportunity to continue youth leadership development, and noted that there are different kinds of leaders. Whether a youth is quiet or outgoing, there should be opportunities to accommodate different personalities and leadership styles. The greatest opportunity to engage youth and continue to engage them is to take field trips. Teens are looking for a change of scenery, and Walter also feels they don’t have the entire picture of the resources the City has to offer. His idea is to bring youth leaders together from the rec centers, take them on field trips, and continue to build their knowledge and skillset together to address issues important to them.
He also feels the recreation centers should have technology centers or a “library mentality”—laptops and internet access—along with college preparation courses and tutoring assistance, to help bring youth together and to help them continue to break the unhealthy cycles in the neighborhood.