Key'Anna Graham has her future mapped out — from culinary study at an internationally renowned institute to an eventual move to France.
"I love creating new stuff with food, mainly because I like to see a person's face when they try it, see their expression," the Pine Tree eighth-grader said, "and really my plan is to start off and work my way up."
Her instructors say their goal is to help empower Key'Anna for her future.
"We're talking about getting our students to be college ready, and we have so many different ways," PACE Principal Shalonda Adams said while eating a parfait created by Key'Anna, "but my goal is to help empower them now, so that they're learning now, they're growing stronger now and they're living their best life now as a young person."
The teenager is among dozens of young people who this month are spending three days a week at Pine Tree PACE — Pirate Alternative to Continuing Education — Academy for a summer program focused on personal interests, social causes, volunteerism, the arts, game design and more.
Pine Tree ISD and the city's Partners in Prevention-Hope for Youth Committee teamed for a one-day program of similar activities this past summer. Adams said organizers decided this year to expand the program to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the month of July.
It's one of many more opportunities to entertain and educate young people during periods such as summertime when schools are closed.
From adding the Teen Jam Dance Party to the city's Fireworks and Freedom Celebration on July 4 to a teens-only event July 28 at the Longview Public Library, Mayor Andy Mack said he's seeing a more concerted effort in the city to engage young people.
"The young people deserve that, No. 1," Mack said, "but No. 2, it gives them something to do and it keeps them from doing things that they shouldn't be doing — not that everyone is going to get in trouble, but kids tend to do things and they wander off."
Keeping youngsters from finding trouble was a primary goal among Hope for Youth members, who came together in 2015 to find ways to curb escalating violence and gang activity in Longview. As members heard repeatedly from young people about the lack of local activities, they sought to fill the summer and spring break dates on the calendar. Activities have ranged from this past year's Check into PACE summer fun day to crafting traditional and nonconventional skills.
"Of course, it offers our kids a different option," said Miranda Chism, a Hope for Youth member whose fourth-grade son Taryn Hill and 18-year-old niece Kia Samuels attended the PACE summer empowerment program Wednesday.
"Most of the time, our kids are sitting at home. They don't really have much to do but play video games, watch TV and really not getting out there and exploring different things for their minds. This is about exposure," said Chism, who also is a teacher in Longview ISD. "That's even why I brought (Kia) out. We need to kind of get exposed to different things, so when they come out here, they can reconnect with different kids, meet new people, communicate and do different activities."
Kia graduated earlier this year from Daingerfield High School but said she enjoyed the empowerment program.
"Having something positive to do can knock your focus off of doing something that will get you in trouble," Kia said. "I think that's a good thing."
Taryn said having the summer empowerment program to attend was "a nice change."
"It was pretty fun, and I loved the food, as you can see, and I enjoyed playing basketball," he said.
For Key'Anna, it wasn't necessarily fun and games. Wednesday was her opportunity to learn and test her skills under the Pine Tree High School culinary arts instructor. Key'Anna is a year away from high school, but the instruction and encouragement she received this past week will pay off, she said.
Her goal is to attend four years of college — two at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, then the final two years at the college's Paris, France, campus — before she starts her own French bistro, she said.
"It gives me hope," Key'Anna said, "because the way she spoke about my preparation and how I did most stuff that other high school students don't do, it gives me hope that one day, whenever I do get up there, I can be at the top of my class and I can make more stuff and better stuff."
She chose to make fruit-yogurt-and-granola parfaits Wednesday.
"It feels like you're the teacher and you're helping them learn something that they didn't know, and it gives you that really good feeling — like the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling," Key'Anna said.