FCCHC program serves children of diverse communities





Aside from family, nothing is more important than community at the Garden Spot Apartments on Mary Street, where people from several different cultures live, working together to ensure their children have the best possible futures.

"I tell you one of the things we've learned, they all want the best for their children," said Verna Weber, director of the Finney County Community Health Coalition.

Weber was referring to Burmese, Somali and Hispanic families that live at the apartment complex where the FCCHC recently rented out an apartment to house the Neighborhood Health and Education Center. The center is being used to hold a four-week educational camp this summer for children who live in the neighborhood.

"There's no place close for the kids in the summertime and no activities, so we just wanted to provide some activities for them, so they aren't so bored," Weber said.

Currently, 47 youths, age 3 to 15, attend the camp, which is held from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Three certified USD 457 teachers instruct the children in reading, writing and math skills.

The three teachers are Michelle Wells, instructional coach at Kenneth Henderson Middle School; Lisa Cady, kindergarten teacher at Gertrude Walker Elementary School; and Dora Carillo, currently a USD 457 substitute teacher. Paraprofessionals and other certified teachers also help when needed.

Cady, who was showing children how to make s'mores out of graham crackers, marshmallows and Nutella during Thursday's camp, said being able to work at the camp is like a dream come true. She spent the last two years visiting the apartment complex, teaching anyone who was interested in learning.

"I was coming up here by myself, and I just did it on my own time, my own dollar. I was just coming up to individual apartments and walking in with my bag full of stuff, and I just sit down on the floor and whoever showed up worked on stuff, so this is just awesome," Cady said, referring to the center, where all the children were gathered at different learning stations.

Ju Yah, 15, helps the teachers and interprets for Burmese parents and children when needed. She said she hopes to become a teacher, largely because of the impact Cady made in her life.

"I want to teach the little kids, like Miss Cady," Yah said.

During Thursday's camp, Nancy Harness, violence prevention initiative coordinator, said the children were studying rocks.

Gloria Rosas, a paraprofessional at Buffalo Jones Elementary School, was teaching 3- and 4-year-olds about patterns and numbers.

"We're teaching them the basics to get them started. They do very well at this age. I think they learn pretty fast," Rosas said.

Wells was using different mediums, such as watercolors, to teach the children about making observations about rocks.

"They're making observations about using the mediums and how they can get their rocks to look like that," Wells said.

The Center for Children and Families at St. Catherine Hospital, managed by the coalition, was awarded an $87,590 grant focusing on the reduction and prevention of family violence. The center is being funded and the teachers are being paid by the grant, provided by the Mission and Ministry Fund of Catholic Health Initiatives, the national health care system that includes St. Catherine and the Center for Children and Families.

Weber said the grant also will be used to provide services to other Garden City neighborhoods.

In addition to providing educational activities for the children of the neighborhood, Weber said, the center will also be used to hold meetings with Burmese, Somali and Hispanic community leaders.

"Law enforcement is also going to have a monthly meeting here to do some education," Weber said.

She said it's also for the children's parents, many of whom don't speak English.

"Part of our goal is to get them connected to the community, help them understand what the resources are in the community, and then help them become engaged," Weber said.

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