Shalom Zone offers summer programs to keep kids engaged
Any program that allows students to continue their development over summer is critically important, said Gary Baker, II, board member of Columbus City Schools.
“The students need to keep learning over the summer or they regress,” Baker said.
The Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone (GHASZ) hosts youth programs every summer, including the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, Night at the Gym Basketball program and the Hilltop Teen Club Drop-in Center.
The teen club served more than 200 middle school and high school students this past year. Teens discuss community issues, play games, engage in the arts and take occasional field trips.
Danielle is a 14-year-old who attends the teen club who has seen significant changes in her writing skills. She recently submitted her writing into a community arts show at the YMCA. Danielle said she can be herself at the center.
Sixty-five area youths participate in the Night at the Gym program twice a week, year-round. They are taught and mentored at the Buckeye Ranch by local athletic coaches, police officers and firefighters.
“These programs are giving children and youth in our neighborhood safe places to be, resources for their future, supportive adults who are willing to walk with them through the scariest times of their lives and full tummies every day,” said Rev. Julia Nielsen, GHASZ executive director.
The Freedom Schools are nationally coordinated and happen over six-weeks during June and July.
The program focuses on literacy enrichment, civic engagement and empowerment.
The program is rooted in the civil rights movement and the commitment to breaking the cradle-to-prison pipeline, said program officials.
Highland Elementary, West Broad Elementary, West Mound Elementary and Hilltonia Middle School are hosting sites this summer.
Funding is supported by individual gifts and donations, preventive funding by Franklin County Children’s Services, community faith partners and in-kind donations including Columbus City Schools and local churches.
“Each child gains something different, but what they always find is someone who cares about them and opportunities to live into their full potential,” said Nielsen.