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SCOOPing Trenton Kids Off the Street

Photo of a SCOOP participant and soccer player.
A SCOOP participant plays soccer.

In cities across the country, parents scramble to get their children into programs during the all-important afterschool hours. But in Trenton, NJ, there is no more scrambling, thanks to SCOOP, a citywide initiative that helps thousands of kids participate in more than 100 different activities after school and on Saturdays.

SCOOP, which stands for Social Celebrations Opportunities Organizations People, was launched in 2003 after city leaders agreed that every child in Trenton should have access to activities without being limited by transportation, lack of money, or location.

So the city developed SCOOP with a transportation system to support it. The bus system links 13 centers, including 4 Safe Havens, and uses barcoded photo identification for all children, which helps SCOOP track their participation and progress. This dramatic program started to take shape a few years ago, and now every day nearly 700 children ages 7–18 are taking part in SCOOP, and more than 3,000 youth are registered participants.

Of course, developing such a program was a tall order, but after holding forums with youth service providers in 2001, the city came up with a 5-year strategic plan. Trenton's Department of Recreation, Natural Resources, and Culture became the plan facilitator and began working on the program with community leaders. Then, the Youth Advocacy Cabinet designed the SCOOP pilot program.

The Weed and Seed strategy served as a basis for the plan, said Francis Blanco, Director of the Department of Recreation, Natural Resources, and Culture. Like Weed and Seed, SCOOP stresses leveraging resources, a systematic approach, and support from policymakers.

The breadth of programming that SCOOP offers spans different age groups and interests. Programs focus on arts and culture, education, leisure and sports, history, and special initiatives such as drug prevention. Some examples of activities include martial arts, African drumming, Latin dance, horseback riding, community service, music, and basketball.

Trenton's Northwest and Southeast Weed and Seed sites play a key role in SCOOP, particularly in the prevention and intervention areas. The Trenton Police Department provides a safe corridor using funding from Weed and Seed and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many of the people who serve on the Seed subcommittee are working with SCOOP as well.

Blanco is particularly pleased when kids are having a good time and learning while doing so.

“When kids are playing chess they're having fun, but they're also learning analytical skills,” she said. “If we can get kids off the street, that's great, but if we can get them off the street and teach them, that's even greater.”

Photo of SCOOP kids at a swimming pool. SCOOP kids get ready to dive in.

Winning the support of the community was paramount and something of which SCOOP is proud. For example, Jim Carlucci, chairperson of a community police advisory group, sent in a testimonial of support for SCOOP.

“I must say I personally was impressed with the scope of the children's activities, the attention to security and tracking through technology, and the stated objective to bring the various programs of organizations such as the CYO and Boys & Girls Club into the mix,” Carlucci wrote. “This is a wonderful asset for our community. . . . I will be sure to spread the word every chance I get about this great program.”

With SCOOP in full swing, Blanco said she is feeling more confident on the prevention front and is starting to focus more on intervention with at-risk youth, including those who are reentering the community after a stay in a juvenile justice system facility.

Blanco is enthusiastic about SCOOP's prospects of further success. “It's very exciting,” she said. “It gives them a chance. It works.”

For further information, visit SCOOP's Web site or contact:

Francis Blanco

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