Malvern, Ark - Breyanna Beard, 11, Aaliyah Danner, 10, Tytiana Lock, 10, Trinity Langston, 9, and Shania Robinson, 12, are just hanging out, enjoying their final days of summer at the Boys & Girls Club of Malvern and Hot Spring County.
They have participated in a range of activities, from arts and crafts and sewing to keyboarding and cooking this summer. The program, which began June 13 and ends July 22, offers daily healthy, nutritious meals to young participants, helping curb the impact of hunger.
The Boys and Girls Club is a site for the USDA Summer Food Service, which provides nutritious meals and snacks to kids during the summer months. Participants like Breyanna say the program makes her feel better.
"I think it's a good experience, to get to know other students," says Breyanna. "It's food that I like. It's different and it's good, like the ravioli."
Central Arkansas Development Council program specialist Michelle Furlow Hunter manages the summer food program for CADC, which sponsors the Malvern Boys and Girls Club site. She says hunger and poor nutrition in the summer months can lead to poor performance for kids during the school year. The food program helps kids get the proper nutrition they need in the summer, ensuring they are more likely to excel when school resumes.
"On a national average, only 20% of children who receive free or reduced meals at school also receive meals in the summer," said Hunter. "With the economy like it is, families are struggling and need help with nutrition assistance during the summer months."
Hunter said CADC oversees the production and distribution of food to the club. Meals are prepared at the Malvern CADC Senior Activity Center and transported to the center.
Tammy Denham, Unit Director at the Boys and Girls Club, says the summer food program and food they get from the Arkansas Food Bank Network meet a big need in the community. "This is a wonderful feeding program and ensures that kids get at least one good meal a day." Denham went on to say that grant funding enabled the club to provide scholarships to kids whose families could not afford the $75 summer tuition, providing kids from a range of socio-economic backgrounds an equal opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and learning experiences.
For Aaliyah Danner, the program opens up a world of possibilities that includes food & nutrition. "We play games and they teach us about health and making the right decisions," said Aaliyah.
Social interaction, personal hygiene, emotional wellness and peer pressure are just some of the topics kids discuss at the center. Debra Taylor serves as Smart Moves director and oversees a range of hands-on learning activities. At any one time, more than 50 kids sit in her classroom, ready and eager to learn how to sew a pillow, make a quilt, cook a meal, or complete a craft. In the process, they learn presentation and leadership skills and become mentors to younger participants. Taylor says her focus is on making learning fun and emphasizing cooperation.
"Games reinforce concepts on friendship, personal hygiene, anger management, bullying, and making the right choices," says Taylor. "This program is making a difference. I couldn't think of anything better that's offered in the community. It's God-given."
According to Club Director Phil Clem, summer program activities have included arts and crafts, tutoring, a technology class for kids in grades 5-8, a computer lab, the smart moves program and the smart girls program, presentations from the Little Rock Zoo and the health department, musical classes and keyboarding, in addition to a range of games and other activities. Both staff and volunteers help provide activities to the more than 300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are signed up for the summer program. The average daily attendance is 170.
When asked what was so great about the summer program at the Boys and Girls Club, Breyanna eagerly shares her point of view. "If I wasn't here, I would be at home asleep or watching television. "There's nothing to do at home."
CADC is a private nonprofit community action agency formed in 1965 to fight the War on Poverty. The mission of CADC is to improve the quality of life and build strong communities in Arkansas. In addition to sponsoring the summer food service program, the agency also provides supplemental food through the USDA commodity service program. For more information on food and nutrition services at CADC, call 501-778-1133 or go to www.cadc.com.