Teaching young people about the difference between “needs” and “wants” often poses a challenge. Needs are basic things for living: water, clothing, shelter, and food. A want is something desired, like the latest cell phone or basketball shoe.

When the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center (PYEC) opened its doors in 2014, there was a different kind of need. The youth expressed it best, a need “to feel included, safe, and to have a purpose.”

Since its opening, PYEC has cultivated opportunities for the youth to fill those needs. Gabi Bueras (PUHS 2016), a recent ASU graduate and a Domestic Violence Coordinator, was one of the original teens when PYEC opened its doors. In her experience, being involved with “youth centers like Patagonia’s show a decrease in youth depression, runaways, and suicides.” She goes on to say that PYEC provides a much-needed inclusive environment in Patagonia for youth.

With the COVID19 pandemic, PYEC had to temporarily close its doors to the youth. The staff immediately saw a different need in the community and began making weekly dinners for the youth, their families, and other community members. They served over 4,000 meals in the spring.

Once the school year ended, PYEC switched gears and focused back primarily on the youth, providing camplike project kits to do at home during the “stay-at-home orders.” to continue the cooking project that the youth had participated in before the pandemic, the PYEC staff also organized weekly dinner kits, including the ingredients, recipes, and containers, for the youth chefs to continue working on their cooking skills by preparing full dinners and desserts for their families at home. These skills enable the community’s youth to gain valuable life skills for their journey into adulthood.

The staff has also continued their 24/7 emotional support for the youth and provided resources to those who needed guidance through the uncertainties. They also assisted some recent graduates with scholarships, setting up bank accounts, and college class registrations.

Going forward, the Youth Center will continue to monitor the health and safety protocols of the county and provide support and assistance to the youth as needed.

The current plans for activities include several events with proper safety measures in place. PYEC’s program coordinator has been working with a few organizations to create potential food sustainability opportunities for the youth. These projects will enhance the Youth Center’s cooking program as well as keep the youth together safely outdoors. The Youth Center is also planning a modified fundraiser in early November, featuring the PYEC youth chefs again. The dinner will be a bit different from last year, due to COVID19.

In the past, emphasis was on controlling negative behavior of the youth. With the presence of PYEC and other supportive organizations like the Patagonia Library, Creative Art Center, and Borderlands (BECY), the youths’ needs are being met and they feel purposeful and included. With this evolving mindset, our youth have become contributing members of the community.