YMCA’s Passion Project teaches career skills to at-risk kids


Scott Turner, KP News

The beginning of the school year marked the start of a new Y-sponsored program series called the Passion Project. The project is directed toward middle-and high-school-age students who have an interest in construction trades, computer repair and programming, filmmaking, auto mechanics, music and the arts.

According to Program Coordinator Dennis Taylor, the Passion Project’s mission is to identify, encourage and nurture the dreams, talents and aspirations of students. “I call it their ‘passion,’” he said.

Specifically, he said, the project is aimed at students who live on the Key Peninsula who have high-risk factors.

“Maybe they’ve been in trouble with the law and have court-ordered community service hours. Or maybe they have chronic truancy problems or they’ve been suspended –– anything that’s going on in their life that’s affected them in a negative way,” Taylor said. “We want to guide them in a purposeful direction –– that’s what the Passion Project is all about.”

Taylor himself is a Key Peninsula resident who lives about five minutes from Camp Seymour.

According to Taylor, the project is a work in progress.

In September, the auto mechanics track began. The first session runs for eight weeks.

The computer lab also is underway, but it will soon move to a new location in the Red Barn, which will open up space for at least 10 additional students, Taylor said.

Taylor also plans to start a “coder dojo” club for students who want to learn to program and code computers. “It’s patterned after a similar online club that has just started up in Seattle,” he said.

In October or November, construction trades classes will get underway with a workshop at Camp Seymour. “We’ll have room for 10-15 students in the construction trades track,” he said. “It’s for students who want to learn basic carpentry skills.”

A music track is also in the works with a music career day planned for next April.

“We’re looking for students who are interested in helping us develop the music track and also the filmmaking and arts tracks. We’re just starting to work on those tracks,” Taylor said.

The arts track will have an international component, based on connections Taylor and his wife made when they visited India earlier this year.

“We hooked up with a nonprofit arts group called Terra Trust and a woman in Bangladesh who’s quite a famous tapestry artist,” he said. “We want to find a way for our own young people who’re interested in the arts to connect with the young women in India.”

The Passion Project is an official program of the Tom Taylor YMCA in Gig Harbor. There is no charge for students who want to participate.

“We made a conscious decision for this program to focus exclusively on the Key Peninsula. We’re working with the school district and the local schools to identify students who could benefit from it,” Taylor said.

“And if students are passionate about things that we aren’t covering right now, we’ll find a way to offer classes for whatever they want to get involved in as a career goal,” he said.

The Passion Project encourages its students to do community service projects for local organizations.

“If a student takes the construction trades courses and does 20 hours of volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, for instance, we’ll give them a fully outfitted tool belt with hammers and squares and other necessary tools,” Taylor said.

The program is looking for donations of time and materials from the community.

“We’re looking for volunteers who have experience with computers –– especially with coding and programming,” he said. “Students will need to have adult mentors available during the online coder dojo lessons, someone who can help them through questions they might have.”

Community members with filmmaking, art or music backgrounds also would be helpful.

For information, call Dennis Taylor at (253) 255-0407.