The Rundown on NCS and What it Means For You!
By: Joanna Fitzpatrick
Free? Is that even a thing anymore? Well, through Neighborhood and Community Services, free is a word that is used often. For those looking for services for parents, children, siblings, grandparents, or themselves and don’t want to put a dent in your pocket then NCS is the place for you! Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services “promotes the well-being of individuals, families and communities by providing a variety of recreation, educational and developmental programs and services. They do this by facilitating community engagement to identify areas of need and enhance countywide capacity for serving those needs; and by connecting residents with a broad spectrum of county- and community-based resources and services to help them be safe, be healthy and realize their potential.”
There’s so much out there that not enough people know about or utilize. Neighborhood and Community Services offers a wide variety of activities, programs and services for individuals of all ages, abilities and interests. People can gain access to these facilities in Fairfax County by registering for a membership online or at a Fairfax County Community, Senior, Teen and/or Technology Center. A general membership is free for those that are residents of Fairfax County. Those who live outside Fairfax County can register for a membership to have access to all community centers, senior centers, teen/technology centers for a $100 annual fee.
There are twelve community centers, 13 senior centers and four teen centers and/or technological centers- with eight additional teen drop-in sites provided to those in or outside the county. With a membership, participants may access all NCS site locations and utilize the services each one provides. Some may ask with so many great organizations to support should others choose to support NCS? Robert Webster, Service Area Manager for Region III NCS, says yes because “We advocate for equity for all people. We focus on equality and making sure that everyone has the same opportunities. We strive to provide all that is needed to the community.”
Providence Community Center, one of the community centers through NCS is a great place to get a closer look into NCS and the services they provide. Providence Community Center houses a senior program, adult program, teen program and youth and family program as well as offers technological services and therapeutic recreational services. “Providence offers a variety of all types of services and programs for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy. We are one of the most populated centers and we’re also one of the newer centers. We have 5,000 active members and roughly 1,600 people come into our facility a month,” says Webster.
Providence Community center opened in January 2015 and serves the community in various ways. It is open six days a week, Monday- Saturday 9am-10pm. “What makes this community center, or I should say Neighborhood and Community services in general so unique is the variety of programs and services they provide that are free. Here at Providence alone we serve individuals varying in age from six-months-old to 90+. We have family programming, senior and adult programming and teen and youth programming. We also have the sensory room located here which is a very unique room that is also offered for free as long as you make an appointment,” said Kevin Aly, employee at Providence Community Center.
One of the many great services that NCS provides that can be found at Providence is the therapeutic recreational services. Providence has a one of a kind sensory room located on the second flood. “I think a huge misconception people have of sensory rooms is that they’re only for people on the spectrum, people with disabilities and that they’re only for kids and although these populations of people are seen in our sensory room we still serve all populations and all varying abilities,” said Riley Wilkerson, a Therapeutic Recreation intern at Providence Community Center.
You may ask what exactly goes on in a sensory room? “The sensory room is all about building positive relationships with your senses. For example, someone who has Sensory Processing Disorder, they could come into the sensory room and have a way to experience their senses in a positive way that isn’t overwhelming and, in a way that they can control. This helps them when they’re out in the real world,” says Wilkerson. Sensory Room has a vibrant combination of lights, sounds, textures, touch pads, swings and much more to offer a variety of opportunities to explore while experiencing physical and intellectual benefits including: improved communication and social skills, enhanced concentration, focus and memory, promotes leisure education and reduced stress.
Another great service NCS provides to the community is their senior programs. Providence houses a very large senior program. The program is for adults ages 50 and older and runs from 9am -4pm Monday- Friday. There is a $48 annual fee associated with the membership that provides members with additional services outside the general membership. The Senior Center at Providence “provides a safe and comfortable place for seniors to come and stay active and socialize with others” says Bessie Smith, an active senior program member at Providence Community Center. They provide fitness classes and tech classes for seniors. The seniors also go on field trips and take visits to other senior centers in Fairfax County. “I’ve seen many lives impacted from the services that Providence provides, and even my own life has changed, I’ve made many friends and long-lasting relationships here,” says Smith. Participating in the senior program allows seniors to pursue hobbies, fitness goals, special interests, and friendships.
The youth and teen programs that are offered through NCS are great places for teens to come that are safe and enjoyable. Providence’s teen program is open to youth that are in 7th-12th grade and runs from 3pm-6pm Monday- Friday. The teen program offers help with school assignments, gives opportunities for youth and teens to socialize, stay active, and encourages teens to participate in any of the clubs offered. Some clubs offered at Providence are STEAM, leadership, ResponCity, gaming club and many more.
“Providence provides an energetic and safe atmosphere for teens to come participate in sports, get extra help in school, make new friends or just come and chill out. We work with the mindset that every child can succeed,” says Janet Young, Youth and Family Director at Providence Community Center. On average Providence has 25-30 teens a day sign-in, says Young. “We also provide a free summer camp for teens and have over 100 teens registered for it each summer.” A 13-year-old teen that comes and participates in Providence Community Center’s teen program daily, Nicholle Nartey, says that “Providence is my favorite place to come to during the week because I get to come and see my friends and I also really enjoy seeing the staff. There are so many cool sports that I hadn’t heard of before joining the teen program like pickleball. Now pickleball is one of my favorite sports to play.”
Another entirely free service that Providence provides is a fully loaded computer lab which is located on the second floor and is open Monday- Friday 9am-8pm. The computer lab has 16 computers available for public use as well as a printer that participants can use. There is an Information Technology Educator that works with all programming areas. The technology programs offer everything from simple computer usage and internet access to training opportunities on a variety of topics including social media, coding, graphic design, 3D printing, and more. As well as the computers, the lab also has a music studio that has an electric keyboard and software for creating music or podcasts. The computer lab and music studio can be utilized by all members of the community center.
NCS provides volunteering opportunities to the community in Fairfax County as well. Participants who want to come and volunteer at Providence or any of the other locations through NCS would need to create an account online through the Volunteer Management System. Volunteers must be at least 13 years of age and must be able to take care of all personal needs. They must be able to work independently and with a team with minimal supervision. Adult and youth volunteers are required to undergo a criminal background check prior to being approved to volunteer. Volunteers must also pick an orientation date where they would attend an orientation and learn about the various volunteering options NCS provides. Providence provides volunteer hours to students to fulfill their civic engagement requirements in school and for teens looking to gain experience and leadership skills and provides volunteer opportunities for all kinds to adults.
If you’re a college student, this last part is for you! NCS provides internships to students in college majoring in various departments. Wilkerson, a current intern at Providence Community center said, “I gained a lot of experience here at Providence in such a short time. After speaking with other students and their experiences with interning… it sounds like I definitely made the right choice interning through NCS.” NCS provides many different career paths and has many opportunities out there for young adults entering into the workforce.
NCS provides all types of services to the community and the majority of them are free. NCS “supports the mission entirely. We support the mission of helping to develop healthy and resilient youth, adults and seniors and provides them opportunities to grow socially, emotionally, physically and educationally,” says Webster. These services are beneficial to all of varying ages and abilities and the centers throughout NCS. If interested, sign-up today!