Q&A: Aaron Vetter
Aaron Vetter: Founder and Director, City Youth Matrix
What is the history of City Youth Matrix?
I have observed the students in our high-risk schools over my 22 years in public education. I founded City Youth Matrix (CYM) to connect vulnerable low-income children to existing extracurricular programs beyond the school day and on weekends. The issues we’ve observed are not a lack of programs, but a connection to them and the family empowerment required to create opportunities for the children. CYM built a system to help parent/guardians secure registration, expenses and transportation to any Frederick County youth organization or business that offers artistic, athletic, music, STEM or vocational opportunities. Our founding vision is to include at least a little parental investment. Whether it’s a parent paying 5 percent of fees or riding in the CYM vehicle, there is always some “skin in the game” required. Our staff includes each parent/guardian we serve being paired with a volunteer family liaison that helps them navigate our resources.
What do studies say about extracurricular activities and success in school?
We know through academic studies and research that children exposed to worlds outside their own do better in school, stay in school, graduate and pursue higher education. They can break the cycle of generational poverty with education and solid career paths. Studies show the dollars invested in our youth’s education and extracurricular activities produce such a high return that its effects are difficult to calculate because the children become such engaged and productive adults.
Transportation is often a barrier for youth participation. How do you handle that?
CYM recruits volunteer drivers who are vetted with a background check, meet insurance requirements and graduate from our training program. We developed a scheduling app to organize the many rides provided by our fleet of drivers. These drivers provide transportation in their personal cars with the parent accompanying the child to and from extracurricular programming.
How have you adjusted with the COVID-19 pandemic?
At the onset of COVID we introduced “Buckets of Hope,” providing educational enrichment materials to low-income children for home use. We distributed over 800 buckets with an impact on 1,600 children to provide them music, art, physical education and STEM supplies and online lessons for the buckets’ contents.
We initiated a community partnership program with monthly workshops. Parents and children are bonding through sewing, yoga, woodworking and hiking experiences taught by county experts. Additionally, CYM continues to remove the barriers of cost and transportation to get youth and families connected with COVID-safe activities at Skate Frederick, YMCA, Frederick Gymnastics Club and Let There Be Rock. We continue to match our children with virtual activities, too.
What would you like to see accomplished a year from now?
We would like to improve our systems and offer these services to more children and families. We know our impact will give our children experiences despite COVID and inspire them to do better in school and develop greater self-esteem to pursue more education. A year from now our Family Empowerment Program will have given stressed-out parents new supports to assist their children in school and provided a path to physical and emotional well-being.