Keeping students engaged and safe

Tablet and STEM kit donation bring the Eglin Air Force Base Youth Center back to life

Chairs empty. Monitors black. Keyboards still. Tables bare. Floors without footsteps.

Nonprofit organizations once bustling with people are nearly empty and silent as many of those they serve stay home during the pandemic. One of these places is the Eglin Air Force Base Youth Center in Florida.

“Our student attendance had to be scaled back,” said Ann Lienemann, director of youth programs at the Youth Center. “It’s been a different summer for us.”

Before the pandemic, students ages nine to 18 would do homework, socialize and enjoy science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, activities at the Center of Innovation. Many after-school programs for the center’s 335 students were paused at the onset of COVID-19. 

“Initially, only mission-essential families were able to send their children to the Youth Center during the pandemic,” said Tara Rollins, assistant youth director at the Youth Center. “We’ve gotten the go-ahead to open a little wider.”

Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a business of Raytheon Technologies, is partnering with the Eglin Air Force Base Youth Center to support its gradual reopening and ensure students can enjoy the center’s benefits even if they can’t gather in large groups. The company donated new tablets and computers as well as professional development programming for staff.

“During these challenging times, it’s critical that students continue to have access to resources and activities that fuel their interest in STEM,” said Paul Ferraro, vice president of Air Power at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “We are longstanding partners with the Youth Center, and this donation will help ensure students in the Eglin community can continue learning in a safe environment when the school day ends.”

Because of the Youth Center’s limited in-person attendance, staff will deliver STEM kits to families to help them stay connected with the center. The kits include books and supplies for hands-on activities, and they come courtesy of Raytheon Missiles & Defense and The STEMAZing Project.

Raytheon Missiles & Defense employees deliver STEM kits to the Eglin Air Force Base Youth Center.

Raytheon Missiles & Defense donated computers, tablets and STEM kits to the Eglin Air Force Base Youth Center.

Raytheon Missiles & Defense donated computers, tablets and STEM kits to the Eglin Air Force Base Youth Center.

Parents may pick up their kits and engage with the center virtually. “We’re encouraging them to upload a video of the STEM activities and join us on Facebook to share their experience,” Lienemann said.

The kits are temporary, but what Rollins and Lienemann want are kids – the same kids who once made the center a fun, bustling place. Opening their doors to small groups is their next step, whenever it’s safe to do so.

“We want noise,” Rollins said. “I miss the constant hum of children here, and I’ll be glad when we have it back.”