EAST TREMONT, Bronx (WABC) — Parents who want better “options” for their kids this summer may be in luck thanks to a new youth program center that just opened in the Bronx.

The OPTIONS program uses technology to provide teenagers with unique lessons focused on everything from career skills such as coding and video editing to assessing their mental health and well-being.

The program started in 2018 in East New York/Brownsville with the goal of engaging teenagers, giving them alternatives, teaching them career skills and discussing what is happening in their neighborhood. Part of the curriculum is dedicated to helping participants understand how to reduce stress and understand their feelings.

In one particular demonstration, a teenager uses a virtual reality screen. But this is not just a game. This is a lesson in deciding whether to help a classmate hide contraband at school.

“It’s really important not to think it’s the right choice, it’s the wrong choice, but to say it’s a choice you make, it’s a choice,” said OPTIONS Ambassador John Negron.

Madison Moreno, 19, says it’s something everyone should learn.

“Learning to assess the situation, identify your emotions and know which path is the right one to ease the situation,” Moreno said.

These are the first lessons in the OPTIONS curriculum, filled with self-reflection to promote emotional health, followed by lessons from career skills like finance to creative skills like music.

The program, which operated as pop-up sites, uses technology that includes everything.

The first of several new OPTIONS centers, run by the NYPD and the NYPD Foundation, opened Thursday in East Tremont, a section of the Bronx struggling with youth violence. The center is the first space dedicated entirely to the program.

“There are a lot of feelings that young people haven’t touched, and this is the first phase,” said Greg Roberts of the New York City Police Foundation. “Get young people to tap into those feelings and take it from there.”

He says that in addition to engaging activities, there is a lot of self-reflection.

“The fact that they do it together with the police is a very interesting phenomenon. Because they bond together,” Roberts said. “They see that they have the same feelings and learn to deal with it.”

“Having this space here on Arthur Avenue is really the right time for the right reason,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson. “Recognizing the purpose and purpose to make a difference, to set young people up for success, to give them better options, to give them better alternatives, so they can make better decisions about themselves and their future.”

Urban teenagers like 16-year-old Jeremy Torres helped decorate the space.

“I know some kids don’t have anywhere to go, I know it’s hard for them at home, so this center can really be an opportunity and a safe space for them to come and be themselves,” Torres said.

Children use their creative and digital skills to literally bring the mural to life. By simply raising a camera to it, they use augmented reality and two different types of artificial intelligence, as well as their own music and artwork, to open up a whole world of possibilities.

“These are things that used to be just ideas in our last community center, and now that we have all this space, we can really take advantage of the opportunity to give people the space and time to be creative, really build their resumes, improve myself professionally and personally,” Moreno said.

New York City Police Commissioner Kichant Sewell says it’s a win-win for more young people to experience the program.

New centers will also open in Queens and Manhattan in the next few weeks, giving more teens this exciting opportunity.

With summer just around the corner, this is exactly what many families in all neighborhoods have been asking for: a place where teenagers can be safe, learn, socialize and have fun with police officers.

For more information on how to get your kids involved in the program, you can check out OPTIONS website.


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