Recently, I attended a local event called “Collective Impact,” sponsored by Bester Community of Hope (BCOH), a San Mar Initiative in Hagerstown (MD). Experts in education reform joined BCOH leaders and partners in sharing their stories and successes on bringing about positive change within schools and communities through combining trauma-informed practices, increasing student and family supports, and the development of strong community partnerships.
One of the most impactful statements came toward the end of the program when Geoffrey Canada of The Harlem Children’s Zone emphasized that to truly improve the academic and social success of students, particularly those who have greater adversity from poverty or toxic stress, we must also support and develop after-school, weekend, and summer-time programming.
This lead me to want to learn more about what’s going on in our local communities, and how to get involved. From my experience working in Morgan and Berkeley County schools over the past five years, I know that school personnel partner with community organizations and faith-based groups to provide weekly “backpacks” for students who have been identified as needing extra food to sustain them over the weekends.
According to the West Virginia Department of Education’s website, over 67 percent of school-aged children in the state qualify for free or reduced lunch. From jars of peanut butter to cans of tuna fish and boxed macaroni and cheese, these students take home items they can easily prepare to ensure their nutritional needs are met when outside of the structure of the school week. Caring Cupboard, a program out of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown, and the Berkeley County Backpack Program, are two of the local organizations providing these services.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle offers after-school and summer programming where youth can participate in supervised structured activities, eat meals, and receive homework support and mentoring from staff and community volunteers. A chapter of this organization can be found in Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan Counties. Extending support to local families that is affordable, accessible, and safe has remained a core vision of Boys and Girls Club initiatives.
A relatively new community collaboration gaining footing in the Eastern Panhandle is The Martinsburg Initiative (TMI). Using research from the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study, TMI is working to develop a trauma-informed community that focuses on building assets, reducing risks, and improving the future health of students and families within the city.
Services available through TMI include advocacy, coordinating with schools and community agencies to increase access for families to needed services and support, program development, mentoring, and community education. TMI partners with The Children’s Home Society’s We Can program to train and prepare mentors to partner with youth and families. Volunteers are needed; those who are interested can complete an application here.
For more information on how you can volunteer or donate to efforts to provide additional after-school, weekend, and summer-break support to local children and families, connect with some of the above listed organizations. Or perhaps, consider how a group or an organization you are affiliated with could build partnerships with local schools or families to provide free or low-cost fun events, activities, or learning experiences. After all, building assets in our communities and families is a powerful investment in our collective future.By Wendy Baracka, LICSW