DeKALB – Children ages 10 to 18 can get creative and make their own roller coasters during an upcoming STEM camp event hosted by Building Leaders Advocating for Change Inc.
BLAC Inc. is a 501c-3 nonprofit organization with the mission to “enhance youth’s lives by providing life and relationship-building programs for at-risk youth in DeKalb.” The organization stresses the importance of academics, social skills, mental health, self-care, teamwork and community service. BLAC Inc.uses educational and recreational outings and events to help youth achieve their goals.
BLAC Inc. will host a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math camp from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 at the Belonging Center, 217 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb. The free two-day event will feature roller coaster building and instruction by STEM educator Jasmine Carey.
Tiffany Tucker is the founder and executive director of BLAC Inc. She spoke with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about the organization and the upcoming STEM camp.
Milton: How did BLAC Inc. start?
Tucker: I started [BLAC Inc.] in 2018 with our first event and incorporated it as a 501c-3 in 2020. Our first event was a Teen Talk Lock-in, and we focused on youth empowerment and coping. Our Teen Talks began first as mental health topics, and have now expanded to other topics, including leadership development and community service. We’ve focused a lot on teen dating violence, suicide, depression, leadership, double standards and other issues that affect youth.
Milton: Why focus on ages 10 to 18?
Tucker: At 10 years old, they’re starting middle school, and that’s where a lot of the bullying starts. At 18 years old, they’re graduating from high school and going off to college. At both ages, it’s important to help ease their anxiety and help support them. I wanted to help teach them life skills, skills that they can use at any age as they transition into adulthood and into the real world. We always try to host events and activities that are fresh. We cater to the youth and keep it interesting for them.
Milton: Why did you choose DeKalb?
Tucker: I’ve been in DeKalb since 2003. I originally came here to attend [Northern Illinois University]. Naturally, I want to help the community I’m in and help the youth where I’m at. I’ve lived here for 17 years, and I wanted to help the youth in our community.
Milton: How many youth do you have at each of your events?
Tucker: We average 20 to 25 students at each event. During the pandemic, we had quite a few more interested in our events. For our mobile escape room, we had 35 kids sign up, but we had to cap it at 25 for social-distancing. The number of participants really depends on the activity we’re putting on.
Milton: Do you have any upcoming events scheduled?
Tucker: We have a STEM camp coming up Sept. 25 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. It will be held at the Belonging Center, 217 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb. NIU’s STEM camp is not the same because of the pandemic. It used to be a weekend camp and now it’s a one-day event in October. So we decided to host our own STEM camp, which is not associated with NIU.
Milton: Tell me more about STEM camp.
Tucker: STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and we wanted to hold an event that connects each area to one another. So we decided on hosting an event that’s all about building roller coasters. The event will give kids a hands-on learning experience that’s also fun. They can use pool noodles, marbles, tape, cups and other materials in the room to make their own roller coasters. The STEM camp is free for participants ages 10 to 18, and we will provide a free continental breakfast and lunch both days. We want to make sure they eat so they can focus on the activity they’re doing. The first day, they will learn about engineering, and they will build the roller coasters over two days. The second day, they will present their roller coaster creations to their family and the community. I think that it’s a really unique event. The kids will be broken up into groups of four. We want to inspire teamwork, with the older kids mentoring the younger kids.
Milton: Who can attend the STEM camp?
Tucker: The event is free and open to the community ages 10 to 18. Everything we’ve done is community-based, but we do like to cater to at-risk youth. Our events are to help them build new relationships and new friendships. Our organization is for girls and boys. We have Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, other groups that are specifically for just boys or girls. We cater to both genders and offer fun, educational events and activities they want to do, with topics they’re interested in. We asked them where they’d like to go, and we went on a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. We talked about double standards because it was a topic they were interested in. They’re interested in doing a retreat. We want them to enjoy what they’re doing and have fun. If they didn’t have fun, there’s no point in us doing it again.