posttrib
DYNAMIC 
Weather Updates

After-school ‘cafe’ in Gary provides outlet for students

Site supervisor Keith Donaldshelps elementary school children with homework assignments Cafe 839 sponsored by Gary Youth Services Bureau. |

Site supervisor Keith Donaldson helps elementary school children with homework assignments at Cafe 839, sponsored by the Gary Youth Services Bureau. | Michael Gonzalez/For the Post-Tribune

storyidforme: 63051327
tmspicid: 22704351
fileheaderid: 10961268
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: April 7, 2014 1:23PM



GARY — Shamaine Easley snapped to attention with a “ten-hut,” his shyness instantly disappearing as the tall Webster Elementary sixth-grader began demonstrating his drill team moves.

On another day, Mikayla Harris leaned over a yellow table hammering out a math word problem with help from Kiesha Jackson.

Meanwhile, about 40 Gary kids, from kindergarten through eighth grade, laughed, joked, ran around or practiced reciting a poem in the spacious Cafe 839, the after-school hangout in the Gary Youth Services Bureau, sponsored by the Gary Parks and Recreation Department.

“We call this organized chaos,” Youth Services Bureau director Kenneth Patrick Barry said. “We let them decompress, shake the day off, then go into homework help.”

Cafe 839 is a spacious, colorful place, with Superman colors and symbols filling posters and lining walls. It is a safe place open to Gary children through eighth grade as long as the public schools are open. The name comes from its address — it’s in the City Hall Annex, at 839 Broadway.

A large wooden stage attracts the most attention. That will be the site of monthly programs put on by Youth Services Bureau participants, Barry said.

“Our kids aren’t celebrated enough, so we built a stage so we can celebrate them and let them feel what that feels like to be celebrated,” he said.

Barry, with the help of a cadre of bureau members, has revitalized the Youth Services Bureau and launched Cafe 839, landing grants from the Wal-Mart Foundation, federal Community Development Block Grant dollars and funds from the Indiana Department of Education, among others.

The kids call most of the shots here. They play with hula hoops or climb monkey bars. They practice reciting poetry for an upcoming black culture celebration. Or, they talk and talk and talk about their school day events.

Older boys, like Easley, can be B-Boys, a drill team that steps, stomps and, in Easley’s words, “teaches us how to be men.”

Symaria Pippins, 7, said she loves the dancing and monkey bars. She then launched into a bit of Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred.”

“ ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ ” she recited. “ ‘Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Fester like a sore?’ That’s all I know.”

Barry was quick to step aside and refer questions to four young adult site supervisors or program coordinators, like Tamika Mallett, a 20-year-old East Chicago woman who grew up in that city’s Boys and Girls Club.

“It was my outlet, my safe haven to go into,” Mallett said, keeping a close eye on her first- and second-grade charges. “(The Boys and Girls Club) kept me on track and supported me in just about everything I did, so I feel really good about giving back here.”

Open from 1:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, Cafe 839 stays open later on Wednesdays for a musical theater class.

A big draw, and one that may be more necessary than most realize, Barry said, is the free food. Here, everyone eats a hot meal. For some, aside from a school lunch, it is the only meal they will eat until the next day, Barry said.

Ebone Tuggles, a Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy senior and alumna of the old Youth Services Bureau, dished out hot pasta, cole slaw and diced pears and spoke about why her work is important.

“I make sure they get the quality food on the food pyramid,” the dance major said. “I want them to grow up knowing what they’re eating, and I want them to be healthy.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.