In one room, students are watching Luca, a new Disney movie only accessible to families that can afford Disney’s streaming service.
In another classroom, students are playing math games and learning about animals.
In another classroom, students are painting toys in faux stained glass patterns.
In all of the rooms, students are playing, learning, and trying new things together. And that’s what makes all the difference.
These students were all enrolled in The Project Connect Summer Academic & Enrichment Program, a 6-week summer program serving children ages 5-13. These students struggled through the last school year just like every other student did (COVID-19 wasn’t easy for anyone), but they had one additional variable to contend with that other students did not. These students are experiencing or have experienced homelessness this school year.
“Imagine undergoing the stress of this last year, and doing it all without the guarantee of a roof over your head, without the consistency of knowing where you’ll sleep tonight or next week or next year, without knowing if the helpful role models you’re surrounded with today will be there tomorrow,” said Rebeka Beach, Project Connect’s (PC) Program Manager. “Our programs ease some of those troubles, creating structure and consistency for these students so they can learn even in the most stressful of circumstances.”
During the summer program, students receive daily academics focusing on math and reading. This helps to mitigate summer learning loss with the intent of achieving academic success for the upcoming school year. Students also participate in a number of enrichment programs/opportunities which provide them with character building, self-esteem, social emotional skills, and overall exposure to new concepts. In addition, each child is provided daily breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks, and each child receives a weekend food pack provided by Childhood Food Solutions.
“It takes a village to support a student. That’s true for all kids, including our Project Connect students,” said Rhonda Lewis, PC Program Enrichment and Development Specialist. “Our summer staff consists of CPS classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, university interns from Xavier and the University of Cincinnati, a foster grandparent, and other PC Staff. It’s truly all hands on deck for this program, because we know how much impact we can make if we all put in the time.”
In addition, the PC summer program involves the community as a means of providing awareness of child homelessness and encouraging ongoing community participation, thereby strengthening community partnerships. This summer’s theme “Back Outside” was chosen to encourage participation in outdoor activities as children have been forced to remain indoors due to the recent COVID-19 Pandemic. “Our goal is to introduce students to life changing experiences that will carry over through adulthood,” continued Lewis. “We understand the importance of exposure and the impact it makes in forming and shaping future lives of our students.”
As part of an annual tradition, Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) staff brought in lunch for all the PC Summer Program’s staff and students during their final week of the program. “Getting to see the kids learning and having fun and working together, even when they’re masked up and social distancing, is enough to brighten my month,” said Carmen Lawrence-Billé, Director of Advancement at ABC. “These kids have had a rough year, but you’d never know it from the smiles on their faces.”
ABC serves as the fiscal agent for Project Connect, which means ABC helps Project Connect with many of their laborious financial duties. These duties can range from fundraising and grant acceptance to accounting and fiscal administration. “It’s a privilege to be able to work so closely with Project Connect,” said Sally Grimes, Executive Director of ABC. “Our missions align so well: both organizations are about providing enrichment opportunities to students in our area. Whether a student has a place to call home or not, they deserve enrichment and education that feels fun.”
Project Connect always accepts donations to support their programming, which serves students experiencing homelessness year-round. In addition, Project Connect is hosting a drive through and drop-off school supply drive at Woodward High School on Saturday August 7 12-4pm. These school supplies will then be distributed to children and youth experiencing homelessness in Butler, Clermont, Warren, and Hamilton counties. Giving a little goes a long way to help our families in need!