Afterschool ‘Delight’ provides youth enrichment

Players assemble to play Magic: The Gathering at Delight on Friday night.

In a bid to expand on its already vibrant youth community of gamers and tech-oriented clientele, local game store Delight is launching an “afterschool enrichment program” designed to explore the intersection of education and play.

Therese Nguyen, co-owner of Delight, is partially modeling the program on the concept of trial-and-error exploration.

“That’s how you can be inventors and creators. You try things and they don’t work and you keep trying,” she said. “That’s what playing and learning is. And we can wrap around other projects that use that sort of methodology. So it’s very hands-on.”

Delight first popped up on Main Street nearly eight years ago, selling items like plush anime dolls, jewelry and candy.

Nguyen had previously worked for the nonprofit United Way.

“I really love the idea of community and that whole United Way and working together with youth was something I cared about,” she said.

Nguyen’s interest in gaming led the store to explore new avenues of community exchange.

“It just sort of just evolved,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Delight’s success allowed it to move to its larger and current location on the corner of Main and Sixth Streets. To walk through the store today is to walk through a physical manifestation of Nguyen’s own eclectic mix of interests.

The dolls, jewelry and candy still have their space in the store, abutted by tabletop gaming paraphernalia, various anime-related items, a public piano and a corner of the store devoted to thrift wear.

“The whole thrift store thing was trying to tie in the whole cosplay idea,” Nguyen said. “Because cosplays are so expensive and I’m all about DIY.”

Hands down, Delight’s biggest draw Thursdays through Saturdays is its tabletop gaming community and tournaments.

Every Friday night, Delight hosts Pokemon card games, with tournaments once a month. The collectible card game pits players against each other, assuming the role of trainers of Pokemon monsters.

This year, about 18 youths turned out for Delight’s Pokemon summer camp. Aimed at a younger audience, the game offers kids more than a chance to socialize.

“There’s reading, math, risk assessment, strategy,” Nguyen said.

Fridays are also host to the more complex Magic: The Gathering card game and its various formats while Thursdays and Saturdays see role-playing fans assemble for the epic tabletop adventures of Dungeons and Dragons. 

Providing a comfortable physical space for such interests to harmonize is part of Nguyen’s goal.

“There’s so much value in the face-to-face, connecting with community and having a place where people who like similar things that you like can get together and make new friends,” she said.

That sentiment is a key value in the store’s culture.

While Delight’s gaming community makes up a large part of its patronage, the store has in recent years begun adding activities centered around education and cooperative play.

Two years ago, Delight began offering workshops in EV3, the latest generation in Lego robotics technology.

Around a programmable brick, participants can build a variety of robots with external sensors that measure sound, color, movement, infrared and touch. The class teaches the rudiments of programming, engineering, logic and math while also allowing for a depth of creativity.

Past projects have included self-driving cars, recreating Mars rovers, robotic pets, tower defense robots, maze challenges, underwater treasure hunting using Bluetooth, security systems, marshmallow catapult/trebuchet challenge, sumo bot battles, mining operations and automated Amazon delivery services.

Beginning students can learn about the functions of motors and programming while advanced students can pursue individual projects.

Last year Delight also began a once-a-week workshop in Scratch programming, a block-based visual programming language that is targeted mainly at children. The language allows users to create their own simple games and animations.

“Basically, they’re building a foundational understanding of programming – like sequencing, if/then statements, infinity loops,” Nguyen said.

For older youths, an advanced class was also offered using the Arduino open-source hardware and software, which provides an easy way of building digital devices while learning programming.

With the success of these workshops, interest grew.

 “A couple years ago we started the robotics and then it sort of just blossomed into all these other resources,” said Nguyen. “And we used community members who have gifts or talents,” recruiting locals to share their skills with the kids.

For these efforts to create a safe and constructive environment for teens and young adults in Cottage Grove, Delight was presented recently with the Expanding and Integrating Community Networks Award by the Vision Keepers.

This year will be the first that Delight will provide a full afterschool program. The courses will be centered around STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) subjects while encouraging social development through teamwork and cooperative play.

Bringing team-building activities into an educational environment is a key element for Nguyen.

“One of the things I noticed that’s really valuable is developing those social interactions and being able to work with people,” she said. “I found that was a big thing that was lacking and that we wanted to foster how to work in social environments, because that’s really important in the workplace.”

One of the core principles of the program will be developing problem-solving skills, inviting participants to engage with one another to solve puzzles or meet goals.

For a generation raised with increasing dependence  on their technological devices, the program also aims to emphasize the positive side of gadgets and machines.

“Screens are not necessarily a bad thing because you can make connections that way. You can use them as a tool to create more person-to-person community. And I think people need that,” Nguyen said. “It’s being able to use them in ways that cultivates the kind of culture that you want to nurture.”

The afterschool program’s activities will see the return of the Lego robotics and Scratch programming classes as well as creative art challenges, cooperative tabletop and interactive video and puzzle games, Rube Goldberg constructions, science experiments and musical collaborations.

Recommended for youths ages seven to 14, the program is slated to kick off Oct. 1. Its base schedule will run Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Three different tiers of involvement will include the full program at $170 per month, a once-a-week/specialty course at $40 per month and drop-ins at $15 per session.

More information can be found at delightinthegrove.com.

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