Work Hard, Play Harder: A Guide To Programs That Inspire Kids

Growing up in a great, big bold city like New York exposes young minds to so many formative opportunities, but it can also be overwhelming. Here at NYXT, we’ve compiled a list of NYC youth programs that offer inspiration for growing individuals that gives them a creative outlet, socialization, a path to the future, a sense of self, and, most of all, FUN!

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Alvin Ailey

Teen years can be fraught with angst, but dance can be an excellent way to boost confidence and bond with contemporaries. If you’re looking for a fun, interactive way to introduce teenagers to the arts and give them a creative means of self-expression, Alvin Ailey’s Teen Extension Contemporary Jazz classes are a unique way for young people to make friends and foster a talent. Whether you’re an experienced dancer looking to broaden his or her horizon with a fusion of modern, ballet and jazz-inspired styles or are looking to experience something completely new, Alvin Ailey has something for everyone in its world-class studios. 

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Unconventional learning sometimes requires unconventional learning spaces. That’s where DIY comes in! The online community for kids was developed as a safe space for children to explore new interests, develop their skills and passions-- from science to making video games-- and get to know other kids with similar interests. For every activity the kids complete, they earn patches, and are encouraged to keep achieving. Through just a simple iPhone app, kids can show off their work in a portfolio that will get them closer to achieving their dreams. By letting kids learn and socialize online, the opportunities for growth are boundless.


Harlem RBI

“Play. Learn. Grow.” That’s the motto for East Harlem-based mentorship program Harlem RBI that inspires low-income youth through sportsmanship to “achieve excellence and change the world.” Through baseball and softball, the program stresses working towards a healthy, active lifestyle that promotes emotional intelligence and academic achievement for its mentees. There are specialized programs for each child as they achieve and progress. In addition to everyday after school and summer programs, Harlem RBI teaches kids to be active participants of their communities and instills job readiness skills, provides SAT and college prep courses, and has a hands-on college “boot camp” that lets students experience collegiate life beforehand. Most importantly, the service provides counseling and social work programs that enable kids to grow emotionally through their journey with Harlem RBI.


Girls Write Now

Are you a teen girl in high school living in one of NYC’s boroughs with a knack for storytelling? Are you looking for a chance to hone your skill with a professional woman writer? Need some individualized college prep? Look no further than Girls Write Now, a writing and mentoring program that pairs teen girls with adult writers to help tap into new ways to express themselves and showcase their work. Girls can develop their talents in poetry, fiction and journalism, as well as take part in the digital media mentoring program that allows them to explore the burgeoning world of filmmaking via social networks, coding, animation and more. A one-on-one kinship with a likeminded advisor is essential for girls for building self-esteem and professional development.


Big Brothers Big Sisters

Supportive role models are crucial for children’s development. The streets of New York City aren’t easy to navigate for anyone, and helping hands are always needed to guide the way. That’s why Big Brothers Big Sisters is committed to nurturing kids to fulfill their greatest potential. The volunteer-based mentoring program provides one-on-one guidance for kids 6 to 18 to give support systems to maneuver the tumult of adolescence.  With this foundation, children are able to succeed at school and are more likely to have higher confidence and steer clear of risky behaviors. Mentors in specific Big Brothers Big Sisters programs include teachers, law enforcement and military officials, community members, as well as offer specialized mentorships for Hispanic, African- and Native-Americans so that kids can realize the importance of having role models that look just like them and come from the same places.


Children’s Museum of the Arts

Art is for everyone! That’s why the Children’s Museum of the Arts offers classes for all kids ranging from 10 months to 15 years old, because it’s never too early to spark imagination. Kids up to 5 can start off with Wee Arts alongside parents to explore their newfound senses through color, music and tactile learning by getting hands-on. Children 5 to 15 can learn to channel their inner selves and begin learning artistic techniques. Teens can get creative in a variety of ways, starting with GirlStories, a free program for girls 12 to 15, that focuses on empowerment and developing the female voice through filmmaking, writing, and performance, in addition to artistic technique. The Young Artist Kollective (YAK) offers creative kids the first crack at networking with art parties with guest artists and an opportunity to turn their artistic dreams into a professional reality. Exploring art through animation, fashion design, sound recording and more, teens have a chance to venture out of conventional ideas of who or what an artist can be. For more intensive opportunities, teens have the option of internships, summer and private classes.


Lower East Side Girls Club

The Lower East Side is a bustling neighborhood that is essential to NYC’s culture and history. Unfortunately, the majority of its school-aged girls are living in poverty, with overcrowded and underfunded schools, and graduate high school under the city average. To counter these statistics, the Lower East Side Girls Club serves to clear a path specifically for girls and young women to achieve despite the odds against them. The club serves as a safe space for them to gather as a place of learning and emotional care. Encouraging girls to pursue subjects like STEM, filmmaking and business, fields where women are severely underrepresented, and molds them to be leaders and activists. Replete with access to their own state-of-the-art planetarium, with LESGC, the sky really is the limit!


City Lore

Education and preservation is the foundation for City Lore. Devoted to remembering historical but forgotten landmarks throughout the Lower East Side, the organization uses technology to build community and link New York’s past with its present. City Lore’s outreach includes an arts education that celebrates NYC’s immigrant culture and traditions.  Thousands of students every year learn world culture through visiting traditional and folk artists, and are encouraged to explore their own backyards for historical insights about the city around them. Children are inspired to express themselves through various media: dance, visual arts, new media, drama and music.


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