Shrieking and giggling, kids from the Christian Community Outreach Center in Olivia dashed across the lawn at their end-of-school-year party in May. They quickly learned they wouldn’t get far in the wheelbarrow race without someone to hold them up. The local BIO Legacy Foundation‘s board took that lesson to heart, teaming up with CCOC to mentor kids after school.
On a sunny spring day, it’s hard to picture the challenges some children face in the surrounding towns of Bird Island and Olivia. Of the 126 elementary students in the CCOC’s After School Enrichment Program, 95 percent were enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs last school year. And a quarter of the kids live in a single-parent home with little or no contact from the other parent. Half come from split families or shared custody households.
Kids from low-income families have less access to everything from quality early childhood education to advanced placement courses in high school to sport and enrichment activities that provide mentoring, teambuilding and other life skills. BIO Legacy Foundation is one of 25 affiliate partners established through the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF), and it received a $2,500 Grow Our Own grant from SWIF to help close the opportunity gap poverty creates.
“This is a chance to help build a relationship with these kids,” said Rob Thurston, president of BIO Legacy Foundation’s board. “It was a good opportunity to partner with a program that is already addressing the opportunity gap and to provide greater access to funding, marketing and mentors.”
‘There are people that care about you’
The CCOC formed in response to an outcry from families, social service agencies and police for help with unsupervised youth during the after school and early evening hours when parents are working. Its After School Enrichment Program provides a nutritious snack, homework assistance, community service and social skills while allowing students to experience a variety of artistic, active and educational enrichment activities. It’s a place where adults take an interest in kids’ lives.
“No matter what, there are people that care about you,” After School Enrichment Program Coordinator Nicolas Hendris told kids at the party in the park. “There’s a lot of people here who really love you guys. We’re looking forward to watching you grow up.”
After school programming doesn’t extend through summer, but BIO Legacy Foundation board members hope to see the kids at other community events the foundation will host. Starting again in fall, each of the 12 board members will share two interesting topics with the students at the after school program. Rob set the bar high, bringing his race car to a recent after school gathering.
“Racing is just cool for kids. But I also pointed out the sponsors on the car and how I need to be responsible and show respect as I’m representing those businesses,” said Rob, whose full-time job is as president at Thurston, Inc. seed brokerage firm.
Most BIO Legacy Foundation projects are focused on youth in the area, with past grants to the Boy Scouts, St. Mary’s School, The Learning Funhouse and BOLD School District. More broadly, the foundation supports area projects that strengthen the communities around four pillars — education, recreation, health and amenities.
“We want to show people this is a place you can come back to. These communities are thriving,” Rob said.