Located in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara is a place that children consider their home away from home—and school. While the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA may be wonderful options for most of the nation’s youth, there is a unique place situated in our own community, a place that allows students to not only have fun, but reap the rewards of it, too. Youth Interactive Santa Barbara is an after school program invested in providing children ages 6 to 18 with education in technology, entrepreneurship, and the arts.
Although the organization was originally established in 2008, the Santa Barbara chapter was founded in early 2012 by Nathalie Gensac. Gensac also founded Media4Good, a corporation established in 2007.
“With a vision to use the power of the media to assist underserved women and youth around the world and to empower them to become self-sufficient, [Media4Good] programs and centers have been built in India, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, and on the Cheyenne Indian reservation in Montana,” said Gensac.
Due to the success of Media4Good, Gensac decided to focus her skills locally here in Santa Barbara, hoping to make a positive impact on the community in addition to forming national and international projects.
According to Gensac, Youth Interactive Santa Barbara is “a Creative Entrepreneurial Center bridging the opportunity divide so that we have the chance to develop our full creative and learning potential. We provide creative youth with the tools they need to be successful.”
“I set out to create a non-profit that would provide others with a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out,’” said Gensac. “I also wanted to use visual media as a tool for us to create visual impact report to keep our donors informed and able to see for themselves the good that we are doing.”
Through the installment of entrepreneurial programs, students were able to gain experience as well as school and college credit for their hard work. Youth Interactive students ages 10 to 24 have created several eco-friendly businesses in partnership with companies such as Whole Foods and Patagonia. The variety of programs ranges from Solimar, a biscotti business, to Outside Street Artists, a program that creates urban apparel and promotes the work of young Santa Barbara artists.
“These businesses are set up as teams of 8 to 12 students who are often given micro loans to get started and are assisted by professional mentors from the community,” said Gensac. “As our students begin to reap the rewards from keeping their profits they gain self-confidence and quickly see the connection between their behavior, responsibility, work, the classroom and career success.”
While parents appreciate the creative yet practical outlet their children are being provided with through Youth Interactive, children are enjoying themselves 100 percent of the way. Krystal Lopez, age 13, shared her experience with Youth Interactive.
“Youth Interactive has helped me grow and learn my strengths through amazing programs,” said Lopez. “Nathalie and Emily helped me find programs and connected me to new opportunities that will help me now and in the future.”
Youth Interactive, located on Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara, welcomes all who enter. For more information, or to donate to the Santa Barbara center or sponsor a child in need, please visit www.youthinteractive.us.