[su_heading size=”40″ align=”left”]Kids of the Mission[/su_heading]

Participants of the Precita Center University summer program during learning day at Precita Park, July 14. Photo courtesy Valentina Sedeno

Editor’s note: The following story is part of San Francisco State University’s Journalism 575 Community Media class. Students under the guidance of journalism professor Jon Funabiki embarked on the “Kids of the Mission” project, where numerous organizations, businesses and programs were profiled.

San Francisco is in the midst of a children’s recreation crisis, in which families who live and work in the Mission District are struggling to find open summer programs for their kids to attend.

“Currently we filled up 400 slots in two days,” said Jamestown Community Center Deputy Director of Programs Nelly Sapinski. “In those two days we started having a waitlist for every grade, specifically the younger kids. Rising [Kindergarteners] through 5th grade has huge demand.”

While it’s something that is just being highlighted now, camp directors and administrators in the Mission have been working with this issue for the past few years, doing their best to accommodate families in the neighborhood.

“Every summer it’s something we’ve been experiencing,” said Mission Neighborhood Center’s Youth Services Director Gloria Romero. “We have a lot of families that are interested in our program that have been calling, emailing and coming by. It’s been months now just really wanting to make sure they secure a summer slot.”

According to Romero, the overwhelming demand for their summer recreation programs has lead Mission Neighborhood Center’s primary funder, the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth & Their Families, to increase its budget in hopes of meeting the demand and moving more families off waitlists and into confirmed spaces for their children. Despite emphasis on increased resources and funding, Mission Neighborhood Centers and other summer programs in the Mission are still struggling to keep pace with the ever-growing demand for summer programs.

“We want to be able to support as much of the demand as we can,” Romero said. “There are a lot of families that need summer camp for their children and we only have a certain number of staff and we need to make sure we keep a quality staff-child ratio. Being able to get the additional funds has been a relief for us because we can then hire additional staff and be able to serve more kids.”

Though a problem throughout San Francisco, the Mission District faces the unique challenges that magnify the issue. For the working-class families of the Mission, it’s not only a matter of finding space for their kids in just any camp, but  finding a camp that is both affordable and has ties to the neighborhood.

Many of the families looking to register their kids at these camps in the Mission have moved to other neighborhoods in San Francisco or other areas of the Bay Area due to the rising cost of living from the city’s tech boom. According to Romero, many of the families who come to the Mission Neighborhood Center commute to the Mission because despite not being able to live in the area anymore, they still want their children to be a part of the neighborhood. For these families the possibility of not being able to enroll their kids at camps in a neighborhood that they have deep social and cultural ties to makes the issue harder to deal with.

“Our community here has been experiencing gentrification and everything that comes with that and we do have families that have been pushed out of the city … They are still going to school, work and play in this community,” Romero said. “Many of the families grew up in this neighborhood, they’re generational and this is their community. The Mission District is where they’ve lived, where they’ve gone to school and where they play.”

Precita Eyes Summer Program Coordinator Daniel Villarreal says it’s very difficult turning families away.

“They know us, they know our program and their kids want to be here,” he said. “You’re always going to feel bad about those situations where you have to turn away families, but we try to keep resources available to them and not just give up on them.”

Programs and community centers like Jamestown and Mission Neighborhood Center are coming together to try to solve the issue by contacting and referring waitlisted families to other camps in San Francisco that may have more space readily available for their children.

“We don’t want to turn families away in anyway so we’ll put them on them on the waitlist but then we also try to connect them with other summer camps and find out where their slots are,” Romero said.

Mission District camp directors and coordinators acknowledge that this is a good start but not a permanent solution. By providing families other alternatives and resources, they can at least find safe, affordable childcare somewhere, and remain optimistic about the prospect of eventually finding it in their beloved neighborhood.