When I volunteered to do an article about Leonardo’s, I thought it would be quick and easy. After all, we’ve had a membership for 10 years, and I’ve probably been in every nook and cranny, including the mysterious 3rd floor. But, very quickly I realized that I wanted to tell people more than just the usual rundown of hours and programs. You see, Leonardo’s isn’t just a playground, it’s a community. It’s a piece of childhood, and priceless memories. It’s a place where kids grow up, and parents meet new friends. Those are the things I think people should know about. So, my first installment is about the apprenticeship program.

Every year, Leonardo’s has an art/science camp for elementary age kids.  This year it is sponsored by Park Avenue Thrift. When you are 13, you are able to become an apprentice, which is a volunteer, who helps with the camp. I talked to the Volunteering and Marketing Coordinator, Tabitha Buller, and found that there is much more to the apprenticeship program than I imagined. One of the things she has noticed is that the apprentices find that the things they do or like that they think make them “dorky” are things that the campers look up to and want to imitate. She says that every day on the job is different. “It’s unpredictable in a great way, and I think that’s what makes us such a good setting for job training, because we can teach (them) how to deal with any situation, and I don’t have to alter our program at all. Just putting them with the kids automatically does that.”  I found out that this year Goodwill teamed up with Leonardo’s to offer more mentoring to the apprentices, which will help prepare them for jobs. Then I found out something really surprising…Ashleigh Curtis, the GoodGuides Program Manager for Goodwill in OKC, was a Leonardo’s camper as a kid!

My daughter, Breanna finally began her first summer apprenticeship at Leonardo’s last month. I say finally, because she has looked forward to working at Leonardo’s ever since she can remember. So I decided to interview her about it. I asked her how being an apprentice has changed her, and how she felt about Leonardo’s. “You get prepared for everything in the world. When you work with kids, there’s all kinds of crazy situations. I think I’m more responsible, and I’m very proud. I hope to work as a paid employee when I’m old enough. Leonardo’s was and always will be a special place for me.”

Next, I visited with Tim, a 17 year old, who was an apprentice for 2 ½ years, and how is a paid employee, and found out that his favorite part of being an apprentice was building a relationship with the kids and families. It was rewarding to him to see the kids other places around town, and their faces light up and say, “There’s Mr. Tim!”, and know that he’s made a difference in someone’s life.  I learned that he and his brothers were homeschooled, and the social interaction with not only children but the adults that come into Leonardo’s is very rewarding to him. He pointed out that sometimes people will open up and talk about things that really matter to them, and in his work setting, he is able to connect with them, “something you can’t really do if you work in the drive-thru at McDonalds.”

Another apprentice, Blake shared that seeing smiles on kid’s faces is the best part of the job, and that it really teaches you responsibility. He pointed out that the training before camp begins is a lot of fun, because they play games, and get to know each other.

Finally, I interviewed Jacob, who spent two years as a camper and then came back as an apprentice. He said that he enjoyed making things and being with friends at camp, but what brought him back as an apprentice is the fact that when he was a camper, he really looked up to the apprentices that helped him. He also felt that the apprenticeship program teaches teamwork.

All in all, I came away with the feeling that the apprenticeship program is building the next generation up, giving them confidence, and a sense of purpose and belonging, and showing them how to become a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s something Enid, and Leonardo’s staff, patrons, and supporters can really be proud of.