Alex Santos stands outside the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center waiting to pick up a cooking kit to take home. Photo by Anna Coleman

Last summer, before COVID joined us, Patagonia was a pretty good place to be a kid. You could hang out in the park, go to the library for books, computers, and lunch, be a Borderlands Earth Care Youth Institute (BECY)intern, do summer classes at Creative Arts, go swimming at the pool, play in the school’s summer sports leagues, spend time at the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center (PYEC) cooking food or playing pool, go to the County Fair. There were summer jobs available locally. Not bad for town with fewer than 900 people. 

It’s a different story this year. For most kids, it is a hard summer. The pool, park, and library are closed as are Creative Arts, the Tin Shed, the Youth Center building. The BECY program and the summer sports leagues were cancelled. Few places are hiring summer help. And it’s NOT OK to hang out in groups with friends. Kids are bored and frustrated. Parents who already have had their children at home for three months before the traditional summer break are running out of ideas and patience. The uncertainty about when and how schools will open makes it difficult to plan for teachers, nonprofits serving children and youth, and parents. 

There are some bright spots. PYEC has created a summer program, with support from the Patagonia Regional Community Fund, that provides supplies for youth to do individual projects like creating posters to promote participation in the 2020 census. Over 20 youth are participating in the program. PYEC is also distributing cooking kits with menus and ingredients to help youth demonstrate their skills by cooking meals for their families. 

Alex Santos, 17, made one of the census posters that are now placed in Sonoita and Patagonia. He is spending more time this summer at home painting, reading, and playing guitar. The biggest loss for Alex is not being able to hang out and play basketball in the park with his friends. “I love sports, especially basketball, and really hope we will be able to play this winter. It is my senior year. I would like to attend classes in person if it is safe, but honestly, no matter how, we have to continue with school.” 

Other youth are figuring it out too. Chesed Chap, 17, was a BECY intern last summer. This year she has had to create her own structure and be “more accountable to myself.” She does a morning workout and a late afternoon run every day and is taking an online math class from Pima Community College. One big disappointment is not being able to visit her grandparents on the weekends. Chesed is hoping that the upcoming school year will be in person. “I miss socializing with my friends. I really want this to be over.” 

Liam Young missed the 4th of July festivities. “Basically, there is a lot less going on around town,” he said. He understands the need to mindful of the risk of the COVID virus, but misses hanging out with his friends. This summer Liam is “doing nature stuff like fishing and hiking and having more family time.” He is really hoping to go back to in-school classes and to be able to play basketball and tennis. 

Sydney McKay, 16, is keeping busy. She has gotten fabric from the Art Center and is sewing and distributing masks; making and selling nail polish using Instagram marketing; painting; working at Harris Heritage Farms milking the cows and gardening. Sydney’s biggest loss is “not being able to go out and see my friends.” 

Jose Santos, 18, is the oldest of five children and just graduated from high school this spring. He is spending the summer helping his Mom with the family and with maintaining the house. He said the closing of the library, the pool, the park, and the Youth Center are big for all the kids. 

Jose summed it up by saying “wearing the masks, the social distancing, all of it is just kind of weird.”