YMCA's teen coordinator offers safe haven and programs to woo youth away from gangs
By David Miers
On a cold and rainy afternoon, Bryan Supnet, teen program coordinator for the Mission YMCA, spends what little time he can spare in the office preparing the programming guide for the participants in his after-school workshops. For many of them these activities provide some of brightest and warmest moments they will have all week.
“These kids are really smart,” Bryan said, “but one thing I’ve learned since working in this position is that the school system they attend is so straight, narrow, and traditional that they don’t have time to work with these kids that may not fit that mold. Over here, we opt for a different approach to learning, it’s more personal.”
The YMCA Mission Teen Program is a grant funded initiative developed to offer both boys and girls ages 13 to 18 after-school and even weekend activities free of charge in support of keeping them off the streets. In collaboration with the San Francisco Park and Recreation Department and the Excelsior Youth Club, the Mission YMCA offers youth a safe environment and a range of activities.
“Its a really tough job because you only have so much time and resources to offer the kids and you’re getting pulled in every direction, but it’s all about just being there for them and letting them know you care about them. Not just there to be there too, but putting in the extra effort to find out who they are, where they are from, and actually listen because I’m not from here (San Francisco) these kids teach me every day how life is in the city, I’ve never been through it, so why not listen?” Bryan said.
Growing up in the small town of Gilroy, California, Bryan started working with youth from a very young age. He started coaching as a Park and Recreation employee for the city until he was promoted to a coordinating position before college. After entering a graduate studies program in kinesiology at San Francisco State University, he moved to the city where he took the coordinating position of the new Teen Program at the Mission YMCA.
Bryan said he has received great training working with kids in Gilroy and studying at the university, but it could not have prepared him for his first year working in the Mission. From gang activity to the regular “jumping” (attacks) of some of the participants enrolled in his program, Bryan has had an eye-opening experience during the last year.
He explained, “We get participants from both sides of the spectrum, the Norteños and the Sureños, the former being from the 24th intersection of Mission, while the later is from 18th intersection. This close proximity to each other can breed violence in the area, and we get kids showing up late to our programs sometimes after fleeing for their life just blocks away.”
Given the geographical location of the Mission YMCA to the inner Mission District, Bryan is thankful that his site is considered a safe-haven on a neutral site as opposed to the turf disputes farther down the street. With its deep-blue facade draping its sturdy brick foundation and its well-known Y plastered at the front steps, the building sticks out from the rest on the block. A quarter-mile bridge protrudes from its left-hip and extends towards the Daly City half of the Mission.
“As for gang affiliation, we are considered a neutral area, we often get a lot of the kids who want to find a way to get out of that element,” said Bryan. “In fact, we are often referred to by school counselors and even parents for troubled youth because its an escape from all that, but it’s still the Mission—just a safer site.”
Students are encouraged to participate in a wide range of activities that are meant to expand their everyday experience and expose them to possible interests in careers or hobbies that they might not have had a chance to explore before. Cooking, martial arts, and dancing are offered to the kids as well as a comprehensive tutoring service (M.U.S.T Mentor Urban Success Today) and a community involvement program dedicated to graffiti removal.
“This job is really about just being out there, and being in their element and them knowing you’re comfortable in their element and then knowing you’re just trying to help them and building that trust that’s what it’s all about for me, building a relationship and bond with them.”
Because of the recent budget cuts and layoffs in state-run programs for teens in the Park & Recreation Departments dispersed throughout the city, it’s vital that community supported, community run programs like the YMCA survive and continue to provide services for young teens.
“Although this is our first year, we have big aspirations, we are always looking to expand and grow with the kids, but right now we are focusing on boosting participation and the quality of what we have already designed for the kids to make sure it works.”
Kara Kiesselbach, Administrative Services Coordinator for Mission YMCA, commented on Bryan’s hard work, “He does such a great job, he’s always out-and-about making sure the kids have something to do and making sure we have enough activities lined up every week. I never see him really because he’s always working away!”