It is well documented that children’s educational and social outcomes improve when their parents are engaged in their academic experience. Parent involvement is even more critical for very low-income children who often have to overcome additional obstacles including under-resourced schools and stressful environments. Studies show that low-income parents want to be involved in their children’s education, but language, transportation, cultural, and employment barriers make it very challenging.
One of the Agency’s core programs, Project Grow is an afterschool and out-of-school program which fosters a stable and educational environment for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. At Adopt-A-Family, Project Grow provides an Academic Advisor to eliminate some of these barriers by acting as a liaison between parents and the school. The program is customized to meet the unique challenges of 60 formerly homeless and low-income students from Adopt-A-Family housing programs and the surrounding community. Project Grow teachers work with the children’s parent to ensure parental involvement and encourage parent/children engagement. The mission of Project Grow is to provide a safe, stable environment for low-income, formerly homeless children in which to learn.
Click the link below to read an article from How Housing Matters to learn more about the structural barriers preventing low-income parents from engaging in their children’s education, and the ways in which the community can come together to accommodate parents who have a desire to support their children in the classroom.
As part of the Arts in My Backyard series, GROW students visited the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County for ten sessions to learn and create art utilizing recycled items. The Resource Depot provided the curriculum and instruction for the students, working with them to explore and expand their creativity.
The culmination of the sessions was the final art show on January 16th, at The Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, where the pieces were displayed. The pieces all created by the students included self-portraits, woven yarn work, fabric wall hangings, and a collaborative yarn installation. A handful of students also spoke about their process and experiences creating the artwork for the show.
Attendees of the art show were impressed by the skill and creativity shown by all who contributed to the art display!
Project GROW Summer Camp Memories
It was an incredible Summer at Project Grow, Adopt-A-Family’s afterschool and summer camp program for homeless and low-income elementary school students. We owe a special thanks to The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-By-the-Sea who generously provided fund support to enrich the summer camp activities and trips, leading the way to exploration and continued learning for all of our students. Thanks to Project Grow supporters, campers went on more than a dozen field trips and had special visitors conduct workshops and activities on-site.
Here are our favorite highlights:
Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science:
A student favorite every summer is off-site field trips. The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science offers hundreds of interactive exhibits. Visitors can see exciting science demonstrations and presentations by community experts.
All of the Project Grow students attended the field trip and were able to take in a showing of “Backyard Wilderness” which explores the natural ecosystem of a typical family’s backyard on the museum’s famous iMAX theatre screen. They were also able to do a mock TV News broadcast (we think there may be some future newscasters in the bunch!) Their minds were opened to the incredible work that paleontologists and meteorologists do, and they even took a ride on an everglade’s airboat simulator!
Florida Fishing Academy:
Florida Fishing Academy took students out on the open ocean for a very special deep sea fishing experience. Using their newly gained knowledge from classes that Florida Fishing Academy held for the them over the summer, students enjoyed the salty air and sunshine, jumped into the cool ocean waters, and fished for deep sea critters (they were even able to bring back their catch!) For many of the students, it was their first time on a boat and on the ocean, making for a memorable trip.
The highlight of our students summer camp experience was their visit to the brand-new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami. The Frost Science Museum is dedicated to sharing the power of science to its visitors.
Every grade level of the Project Grow students enjoyed the 2-hour drive, their minds racing with excitement and curiosity of this new adventure. They excitedly explored each of the floors of the 3-level aquarium, which includes a 31-foot oculus! The students rested underneath it as they observed large fish soar overhead.
Their imaginations were heightened when they viewed other exhibits including “Feathers to Stars” where they learned all about flight. They also viewed the “Me Lab” and learned how their body works and the different systems within it, as well as the “DaVinci Inventions” and much more.
These trips and activities allowed students to explore places and experience things for the very first time. Thank you again to all who ensured our students and campers thrived during the summer months, when opportunities to learn would be minimal without the structure and enrichment of Project Grow.
Adopt-A-Family’s relationship with TJ Maxx began in 2015 when they put on a “TJ Maxx Fun Day” for our Project Grow afterschool program students on the Grow playground. They brought every child a backpack and t-shirt, played outdoor activities, and got to know the students and staff. Everyone had such a blast that they came back the following year and held a “TJ Maxx Fun Day” again!
Since then, they have “adopted” us in many ways.
- TJ Maxx has provided grant support of our Housing Stabilization Program (HSP) which provides rent and utility assistance for families on the verge of homelessness.
- Since 2015, they have donated more than 60 turkeys to our families to ensure that they all have a special Thanksgiving.
- They provided more than 50 children books for the agency to use as the beautiful centerpieces at our 2017 Tree Lighting event, which are remembered as one of the most popular centerpieces in the event’s history.
- Each new school year, TJ Maxx provides Project Grow students with backpacks, school supplies, and clothing; a huge financial relief for a lot of the families of our students.
When Erlande, a Project Grow alum, speaks about her future, her eyes brighten with enthusiasm.
“I know I want to work with neo-natal infants because it’s the most meaningful way I could give back to others,” she shared. “I don’t want to sound too cliché, but when you grow up around nothing but crisis and hurt—it only makes sense to find something that can impact others in a powerful way.”
Now a senior in High School, Erlande was visiting Adopt-A-Family as she preparing for her adventure into college. While here, she shared the amazing life accomplishments she experienced since her time in Project Grow.
Erlande came to AAF as a young child, uncertain and worried, reaming closed off to staff and the other kids in the program. That all changed though, with the support from teachers, newly made friends in the program and the on-site mental health counselor. “When Erlande first started the program, she was really shy and spoke in such a quiet tone,” shared Daron Morse, Project Grow’s Director of Educational Programs. “Over the years, her confidence began to build more and her voice grew along with it.”
After Project Grow, Erlande became focused on improving her mental health by participating in counseling and becoming involved in the community—healthy coping strategies that Erlande credits with eliminating frustration and anger management challenges she struggled with throughout childhood.
While sharing her excitement to AAF staff during her visit, she couldn’t help but express her gratitude for Project Grow, a program that helped shape her childhood and formative years for the better.
“Project Grow was my childhood,” shared Erlande with a smile. “Everything I remember about my youth revolved around this program—from the singing and activities, to learning how to cope with challenges at home, Project Grow meant everything to me at a very difficult time in my life. I knew I could always come here no matter the crises I frequently faced in my home environment. The program taught me how to treat people with respect and humility; qualities that helped me excel in the healthcare career I began working toward early in my high school years. I remember volunteering with the nursing home across from Adopt-A-Family and applying everything I learned during my Project Grow years on a daily basis. To work in the healthcare field, you need to have a lot of compassion and patience; both are qualities I don’t think I could have refined without my time in Grow.”
Once she graduated out of Project Grow, Erlande became focused on improving her mental health by participating in counseling and becoming involved in the community—healthy coping strategies that
Erlande credits with eliminating frustration and anger management challenges she struggled with throughout childhood.
“I knew I could always come here (Project Grow) no matter the crises I frequently faced in my home environment. The program taught me how to treat people with respect and humility; qualities that helped me excel in the healthcare career I began working toward early in my high school years.”
As a busy high school senior, community volunteer, and Medicana employee, Erlande also successfully earned her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), EKG tech, and Medical Assistant licenses through a rigorous program offered through her high school. Erlande’s resilience, academic and professional success, and commitment to community volunteerism caught the eyes of two local patrons of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, who became significant mentors in her life. Soon afterward, Erlande was honored with a tuition-scholarship from Bethesda-by-the-Sea in addition to significant scholarship support from Florida State University and other private scholarship providers! She planned to pursue a degree in nursing with hopes of someday working in a neo-natal intensive care unit.
Even after sharing her many successes, Erlande has one focus on her mind—how she can impact her hometown.
“Project Grow and Lake Worth had a GIGANTIC impact on my childhood,” said Erlande in closing. “Lake Worth is where I was born and raised, however, you always want to become someone better than you grew up around. Even though I’ve gone through things that were so difficult and hurtful, I see myself back here in ten years giving back to this community (hopefully as a neo-natal intensive care nurse).”
We congratulate Erlande and wish her well on her incredible journey forward!
For our fourth and final Great Give program feature, we met with Daron Morse, Director of Youth Educational Programs, to learn how afterschool programming makes a difference in the lives of 60 students who call Project Grow home.
What are common barriers faced by students your program serves?
The children face so many challenges but also have so much potential. The largest barrier that most of the students face is overcoming the unstable past they experienced prior to entry into our program. When children move many times in a year and their whole life becomes uprooted with each move, the continuity of things like schooling, friendships, and secure attachments becomes jeopardized. When you add in family barriers such as income, transportation, language, and education, the children have so much to overcome to just be on par with their peers. Fortunately, our students are also very resilient and given the right environment, are able to be happy, healthy, and productive children.
What are some key goals for students who attend Project Grow?
The first goal is that the children feel safe, both physically and emotionally. This comes with time and occurs as the children experience stability. This is where Project Grow relies on Adopt-A-Family’s housing programs to ensure that the family is stable. Our second goal is to help each student succeed academically and reach their full potential. Although students often start our program more than a year below grade level, we are proud to say that on average 98% of students are promoted at the end of the year. Click To Tweet
From the perspective of the students you serve, what would you like the community to know (that they may not know) about the work that you do?
What comes to mind is the misconception that afterschool programs are just a form of babysitting or a place where students “just go” to pass time.The reality is, afterschool programs are a vital part of students’ days. Click To Tweet
Our children are provided with the academic support that they need while they are given the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with teachers and peers that they may not have time for during the school day. Afterschool is also a time that allows children to communicate what’s important to them. To put it simply, it all comes down to trust. Considering the challenging backgrounds our students have faced with homelessness and trauma, it is critical they have a place to truly feel safe and have their voices heard. They deserve it.
What makes your job so meaningful?
Essentially, it is knowing that we are making a difference in the kids’ lives. We see it day after day, year after year.To see our students happy and enjoy their lives, that’s incredible. Click To Tweet
Is there a recent success story you’d like to share that shows how the program makes an impact?
Two children who graduated from Project Grow recently surprised us with a visit and shared how the program is still impacting their lives to this day. The two students, both now in high school, specifically highlighted how the program has shaped their study skills and habits. Even though their high school math homework may be challenging, Project Grow provided an academic foundation and established a level of work ethic that is helping them and other students long-term, throughout their high school years and beyond.
When you give with your heart for this year’s Great Give, you are creating the opportunity for our children and families to grow. We hope you will choose to #GiveAAF17.
Read all four Adopt-A-Family Great Give program features:
- Having a Home Makes a Difference
- Serving Our Community’s Most Vulnerable Families
- Preventing Homelessness in Palm Beach County
- Afterschool Programming Changes Lives
Dedication, resilience, and shear effort help to bring a community garden to life at Project Grow.
We took the opportunity to catch up with Evan Schoenly (“Mr. S”), a Project Grow teacher who transformed an empty lot to a beautiful community garden (with the help of his incredible Project Grow students). Mr. S took the time out of his busy day to give us a behind the scenes perspective on how this project has transformed into a meaningful, educational, and symbolic garden that ALL Project Grow students, teachers, and Adopt-A-Family staff can enjoy.
We know this project started literally from the ground up. How did you bring this garden to life?
During summer camp, we began with small planters out of 2 liter bottles. We tried growing random stuff like mini carrots and radishes. It didn’t work too well, but the students showed a ton of enthusiasm and excitement. Their fascination sparked my goal to develop a meaningful garden space. I said to myself, “we can definitely MAKE THIS HAPPEN.” I began mapping it out and planning how we could make the garden a reality. After that, everything fell into place. One day I was driving home and saw 20 vinyl pots up for grabs on the side of the road, so I grabbed those in addition to getting a free truck load of horse manure near the fairgrounds (for fertilization). The next step was finding free top soil near a construction site in Boca I just happened to be driving by the same week. You better believe I shoveled top soil directly into the bed of my truck until I was sore. I pulled this all together with just about zero budget.
How have your students responded to having a garden to call their very own? Are students taking on the upkeep and maintenance of the garden?
Project Grow students usually run to the garden each day afterschool to see the progress and changes within the garden. My goal has always been to teach my students the “bigger picture” idea of where their food comes from and how much hard work (and patience) goes into it. They have a completely different framework each time they go to Publix now—being aware of the responsibility and accountability it takes to keep something growing and alive. I teach the students to be appreciative of things, (all things). When they see how long it takes to grow something and the value within that statement… It’s just so meaningful. The garden is definitely teaching important life lessons; gratitude, patience, and accountability. Regarding the upkeep, each of my kids planted seeds of different plants, so they’ve all had a hand in the garden. As each day passes I’m seeing them all take true ownership of the garden’s progress. It’s been beautiful. You know, it really is sort of magic to see these go from pots of dirt to now 3-foot-tall sunflowers, corn and other plants. Technology is one thing, watching something organic grow is the REAL MAGIC in the world.
Is the garden impacting the overall excitement of Project Grow? And, what aspect of the Project Grow Community Garden makes you most proud?
The way this all came together stands out as most special to me. The fact all students are still interested after several months is amazing. It’s sometimes difficult with kids getting them to invest in something non-tech that’s not an Ipad or video game. Making what was just pots of dirt magical was a challenge and our students embraced it.
We’ve also made the garden collaborative and unique to our students. Beyond it being a garden, it’s a creative space. As you’ll see on the fence, our students have their fiber art pieces from the Arts In My Backyard collaborative with the Cultural Council on full display. It’s a collective space – a space students can see firsthand what they’ve grown, and created with their art on display. This garden is something they (the students) should truly be proud of. I know I certainly am.