PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — After-school activities are an important way for kids to develop social skills, confidence, relieve stress and help with their academics.

There are many local organizations offering after-school activities that are affordable and not your typical sports.

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Assemble, in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is an unassuming storefront, but there’s an explosion of ideas inside. Kids of all ages are exploring new concepts.

Nina Barbuto, founder and executive director of Assemble, says, “Providing that safe space to be like, what if I don’t get it that first time? Or if I’m like, this is interesting. I don’t understand. But helping them to find their way to it. Then to be you on your own learning – please run with it.”

Barbuta said Assemble focuses on STEAM while kids learn social and emotional skills along the way. She offers after-school and Saturday programs for kids grouped by age and full-day programs when kids are off school.

Projects include photography, slime, stop-motion animation, puppetry, learning about brains, circuits, computer coding, robots and so much more.

Barbuto says, “Having an array of options for us is really important because they’re still figuring out what they’re into. And that’s one of the reasons why we offer so many different things is to just exposure.”

It’s free for kids from Garfield, scholarships are available for others and teenagers can even get a stipend to come.

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Queen’s Gambit Chess classes are another after-school activity that kids of all ages can do, even from home.

Ashley Priore founded and runs Queen’s Gambit. She says, “We really focus on chess as a form of engagement and to teach life skills, and our hope is that students not only come out of the program with interest for chess, but they also have other techniques that they learned about problem-solving and critical thinking.”

Queen’s Gambit has been teaching chess classes for kids at area community centers, and those continue with kids wearing masks. But they’re also offered online now, making them available to kids anywhere.

Priore hopes it gives children one more chance to find something they love.

“My hope is that if students see all these opportunities presented to them, then they can pick the one that they’re really passionate about and not feel like they have to be stuck in one space,” she said.

The chess classes through the non-profit Queen’s Gambit are free for all Pittsburgh Public Schools students. At community centers, classes are $35 for a 10-week session with scholarships available.

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Kristine Sorensen