By Dyon Bryant Special to Published May 06, 2015 at 7:26 PM

With summer fast approaching, you may be wondering where to enroll your children for summer camp. Or you may be looking to become more involved within your community and want opportunities to volunteer your time or donate gently used school supplies, books or clothing. COA is one such option.

"Children’s Outing Association (COA) Youth and Family Centers helps Milwaukee children, teens and families reach their fullest potential through family-centered programs in early childcare development, youth development and community development in primarily the Riverwest and Amani neighborhoods." Tynetta Oliver, a former program participant now program coordinator, shares.

COA has been serving Milwaukee families since 1906. Charity Navigator has ranked COA as a four-star charity for its ninth consecutive year due to its nationally ranked and accredited family services. COA is partnered with United Way, Milwaukee Public Schools, Safe & Sound, community learning centers (CLCs) and countless other agencies and programs.

There are two locations within Milwaukee: one located off of Garfield in the Riverwest neighborhood, referred to as the Riverwest Center, and the other on the 2300 block of Burleigh in the Amani neighborhood, called the Goldin Center. Both locations offer a variety of programs and resources to their communities in order to create and foster a holistic approach to community development, enrichment and involvement. COA aims to create even more collaboration and cohesion amongst the three areas of focus: early childhood, youth and community development.

"[COA is] a safe place where one can grow and develop with a community that is committed to building its members and enriching the lives of Milwaukee's youth and their families," said former employee and Public Ally Britney Morgan.

The dedication to the holistic community approach is evident with the expansion of the COA – Goldin Center to continuously improve how the 53206 community is served.

"COA is here as a vital resource, said programs director Sasha Fernandez. "If it’s not at COA, there are people here who can provide you the avenue. We are here to grant exposure to opportunities to help create inclusivity to the communities and families that we serve."

The Goldin and Riverwest Centers both provide a nine-week long summer camp complete with a variety of programs (all-around sports, art, cooking, hip-hop dance, gardening, etc.) and field trips to keep young bodies and minds active over summer vacation. Both centers also provide after-school programming during the school year complete with homework help, curriculum based programs, Free Day Friday, shuttle rides within a given radius, snacks and dinner to the youth.

All programs are broken up by age group to ensure to facilitate an environment of learning and socialization by age group, so it’s broken up by the two age groups of Pre-Teen and Teen, but then even further broken down within those programs. COA – Riverwest also hosts the weekly Skyline concert series in Kadish Park that hosts a variety of musical guests, food trucks and community, family and organizational attendees.

Both the Goldin and Riverwest Centers provide the opportunity to leave the urban setting and go up north to the rural and bucolic setting of Almond. The camp up north is Camp Helen Brachman and is affectionately referred to as "CHB" by campers and staff alike. Youth and families are afforded the opportunity to head up north a few times over the course of the year.

Family camp has taken over 60 families up north for a weekend. Bussing and scholarships are always provided, so there is typically little to no cost incurred. Often times, it’s the first time youth can play outside without the fear of bullets or constantly second guessing their sense of safety. It’s also could be one of the few times or first times that a family is interacting and bonding outside of a restrictive environment, allowing more inclusive and conducive parenting.

The Goldin Center has an ever-expanding list of programs and opportunities it is offering to the 53206 community – one that has high rates of poverty, foreclosed homes, violence, teen pregnancy and drug dealing, but is getting involved in taking back the neighborhood and community to intensify community cohesion, pride and ownership.

In September 2013, the Gil Nutis Family Resource Center, funded by Doris Duke, opened. Children’s Hospital opened a children’s medical clinic at Goldin, and the Burke Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to help construct a five-star childcare center that is set to open July. The goal is to also employ and empower parents in the neighborhood with the opening of these facilities. Goldin also has the tentative opening of Moody Park in June/July 2015 to have splash pads, basketball courts, green space, community center, bike racks and well-lit literacy trail.

"Having a support system the way I did over the years while at COA is what really got me through, and reminds me how important our relationships are, and that it truly takes a village to not only raise a child, but cultivate leaders who are committed to the work of community," Britney says with a thoughtful smile.

This is only the continuation of the plans that COA has for embedding itself as a resource to the communities it serves.

Dyon Bryant Special to
Dyon Bryant was born and raised in Chicago (yes, the actual city) and is a 2013 alumna of Marquette University, where she double majored in psychology and English (Writing Intensive).

She is an avid reader and writer of short stories and on her blog, Chicago Bred | Milwaukee Brewed.

She is also very passionate about implicit and explicit discrimination, especially in regards to the social construct of race, and has conducted semester-long research that has been presented at conferences.

She looks forward to pursuing her passions as she works within Milwaukee's non-profit sector.