Sunday, 08 June 2008 00:00

Unicoi church offers after-school program

Written by Heather Richardson
Jovanna Ascencio and Isabel Reynoso work together on a matching worksheet. Jovanna Ascencio and Isabel Reynoso work together on a matching worksheet. Heather Richardson

It’s 3 p.m. on Friday. School is out and Hispanic students of all ages, from all around the Unicoi area, are headed to the after-school program at Unicoi United Methodist Church. 

For the children, the program is a chance to learn, play and spend time with other Hispanic children. But for the volunteers, the children’s parents and the community, the program is so much more.

The church started the program four years ago to offer Hispanic children in the area a place to spend time together after school and to learn more about Jesus. In those four years, church volunteers have witnessed how the two-and-a-half hours at the church are not only good for the youngsters but are also a big help to parents.

A break for youngsters, parents

“It gives the parents an extra break, extra time to get things done,” said Hope Pritchard, a teacher at David Crockett High School, who has been helping with the program since it started.
Also helping with the students are Carmen Acevedo, Mary Ellen Morrison, Tom Vanover, Timo Harkonen and his wife, Laura.

This year the program has attracted 40 to 50 students every Friday, up considerably from when the program was started.

“I remember when we would come in and there would only be six or seven here,” Pritchard said.

Toward the end of the year, attendance goes down because the migrant students leave. However, Acevedo said the number of migrant workers that are leaving is decreasing. Several of the people who came into the area as migrant workers are beginning to get jobs in the area and stay. Only about 10 of their students are migrants, said Acevedo, who has two children in the program and has been a helper for two years.

“Before Carmen came I was the only one who spoke Spanish,” Pritchard said. “She is a big help.”

Songs in English and Spanish

The students speak English well, but some of their parents still speak little or no English and often the children will serve as translators.

The children will often use both English and Spanish and are encouraged to do so. After singing a round of “Jesus Loves Me” in English, the poster board lyric sheet is flipped over and the children sing another round in Spanish.

During their time at the church, the children learn lessons of the Bible, play games, draw, color, make crafts and eat. With only a handful of volunteers, things seem a little chaotic at times, but the helpers contend that they have a great group of kids. “They take care of each other,” Pritchard said. “The older ones watch out for the younger ones even without being told to.”

After craft time, when magazine clippings, markers, and bottles of glue are scattered all about, the children begin to tidy things up even before they are asked.

Lots of love, lots of hugs

The caretaking can be exhausting but it’s always worth it, Pritchard said.

“Sometimes at the end of the week I’m just tired and I don’t think I have the energy to come in,” she said. “But when I get here, I’m fine. I remember why I came. There’s lots of love, lots of hugs.”

The after-school program is educational for the helpers, as well as the children, Vanover said. “I’ve done this for two years and they’ve taught me a lot,” he said. “They touch my life every time I’m around them.”

First published in El Nuevo Erwin Record

Read 1733 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 21:02