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Empowering After School Program
The experience has been an eye-opener
By Mac Kirk, Edison Volunteer

Choosing the After School Program for my communications final gave me great trepidation. I understood that participating in a community service activity would be beneficial on my resume, but then there were the little people. I had zero experience with children and it gave me anxiety to think about the prospect. Growing up, I dealt with one older brother. I have no first cousins. My parents are older. I spent most of my life around adults and my grandparents. I wasn’t even sure how to start a conversation with someone that young. What are they interested in? How do I act? What do I say to them?  Before I began working at the program, these thoughts swirled in my head when I lay in bed at night.

From the first day of volunteering, the experience has been eye opener for me. The children touched my heart and became dear friends. Not only are they hungry in their tummies, they are hungry for attention, too. It did not take me long to figure out that I only needed to be myself and show them I genuinely cared about them. I have to admit, I have become really attached to these children and I intend to keep helping out as much as my schedule will let me.

I feel the program is a terrific idea and my respect goes to Empowering Darke County Youth and Edison State for making it happen. There is such a need for this in our community. So many local kids are falling through the cracks. I feel this program gives these kids guidance and shows them that doing their homework and trying to better themselves is important to their future success. They have a way to success and a good education is the way. My mom has a cousin that works at Children’s Services who was not aware of the program. When we filled her in, she was very impressed with what we are offering our community. 

Edison’s core values play a major role in this program. Of course, communications is the most important value involved. The volunteers must learn to communicate with the children on a level that the children understand and are comfortable with. Encouragement and approval are key ingredients that some of these children could be lacking in their lives. Hopefully, the children realize they are in an environment where they can express their feelings and be heard. Regarding ethics, we have the opportunity to help mold these young minds as to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. At this young age, their two greatest influences on what are acceptable norms in our society are their family and school. I feel this program helps to reinforce the importance of healthy choices and good study habits that are mandatory for success down the road.

Critical thinking applies to both the volunteers and the children. As a volunteer, I had to learn to identify how to approach each child’s personal needs and requirements. With a systematic and consistent approach, the children slowly began to open up and share their own experiences with me. These same tools can be taught to the children to guide them through difficult situations in their own lives. Before they take any action, good or bad, they need to learn to think over all the consequences and possible outcomes. Teach them to not do something on impulse that can affect the rest of their lives. Celebrating human diversity is another core value that can be molded into these young minds. Teach them what matters is what is on the inside of a person, not the outside. Skin color does not matter. The clothes they wear don’t matter. Everyone has value and should have self-worth.

The fact that Edison State supports this program reinforces the Core Value of inquiry/respect for learning. Edison is an institute of higher learning. However, not every child felt that way when they first started the program. I had a bit of resistance from a few youngsters that did not necessarily enjoy the process or see the value of completing their homework assignments. As our personal relationships with each other improved, so did our work ethics. Now the children come in ready to tackle their assignments, and they enjoy the support we give them while they work. This relates directly to the Core Value of skills/teamwork. Given a chance to grow and thrive in a positive environment, I see these children blossoming before my eyes. I feel blessed that I have become a bright spot in their day and they look forward to spending time with me as much as I do with them. 

I think the after-school program started with a terrific response from the community. The numbers speak for themselves; thirty some kids on the first day, and fifty some by the end of the week. That tells me this program is filling a real need in the community. In general, I think we have a good handle on spending quality time with the children, doing homework together, and offering structured recreation.

My only suggestion at all would be is there anyway a more substantial snack could be offered? I don’t know if it is even a feasible idea or if funding might be available. As I said these kids have stolen my heart, and they are typically pretty hungry by the time they get here.

Mac has completed 25 hours in Empowering Darke County Youth’s After School Program on the Edison State Darke County Campus. To get details about his assignment, go to Edison Students Speak Out

To get more details about Empowering Darke County Youth and the After School Program, go to the Empowering Darke County Youth link.

This opinion is being published with permission, and was chosen for CNO readers due to the quality of the assignment submission and relevance of the topic. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of County News Online or Edison State Community College.

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