Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How a VISTA Kicked Off an After-School Program, and Took it Up a Notch with Volunteers from Boston U. and Support from TDBank

“So often we measure impact in numbers, but when I saw these pictures I thought they really conveyed the impact one VISTA volunteer can have on the lives of many children… No surprise that this is a really successful program.”
- Ann Houston, executive director
Chelsea Neighborhood Developers

While talking with the residents of Spencer Green, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, AmeriCorps Vista volunteer Josh Strazanac made a discovery: there wasn't enough for the Spencer Green kids to do to keep busy.

Working with Chelsea Neighborhood Developers' (CND) Community Engagement Team, Strazanac created a three-day a week program for kids ages three to 12 so they would have a positive place to spend a few hours after school. Volunteers from Boston University's Community Service Center worked with kids for an hour on their homework and for the second hour, the kids had time for some fun. They play board games, socialize with friends and make arts and crafts.

"The after school program was a way for the community room to be used in a healthy, constructive way," Strazanac said.

After a few successful months CND partnered with TDBank to start a financial literacy program for the kids in the after school program. Also Chelsea Public Schools offered their gym and equipment for the children to use when it was cold out and the BNY Mellon Charitable Giving Program provided free passes for the Boston Children's Museum and New England Aquarium.

This program, which started with just 12 children in February when it launched, now has 24 students registered. Many of the nine volunteers from Boston University have been with the program since its launch. The model has been so successful that it is being used to start a program at Spencer Row, another CND affordable housing community.

"Pursuing a healthy environment with long term stability in neighbor relationships is the goal," Strazanac explains.

The time Strazanac put into the after school program has had a lasting impact on all the families who rely on after school care. Spencer Green has seen dramatically reduced damage to property, and the residents are happy with its result.

The Community Engagement Team encourages working with other organizations to improve communities. By forming the relationship between CND, Boston University, TD Bank and Chelsea Public Schools, it has strengthened the Chelsea community.