In so many ways, the Summer Lunch Program provides nourishment to local youth.

And the Rev. Jon Ashley can cite an example.

Ashley is the senior pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Fremont. He also facilitates the coordinating team for the SLP, which dishes up lunches to children up to age 18, along with educational programming, field trips, weekend food totes and school-supply filled backpacks.

The pastor can quote lots of statistics — including higher school test scores — showing how the program positively affects children and youth.

But Ashley puts a face to these stats when he talks about a young man who was a freshman when he started coming to the program. The teen continued to attend every day for four years. And after he graduated from high school, the teen began studying youth ministry at the Bellevue Masters Commission.

“He received scholarship assistance from our church family to help him attend and planned on returning to school this year, but was short of funding,” Ashley said. “However, an anonymous donor gave him a gift to allow him to go back for a second year.

“It was amazing to see the look on this young man’s face when he realized he could continue his education and I look forward to seeing what God does with his life going forward as he gives back to help others.”

This year, the Summer Lunch Program served approximately 7,000 meals to youth and distributed 920 weekend food totes — 2 gallon bags filled with nonperishable food to provide meals for a child during the weekend.

“We gave 350 backpacks filled with all the school supplies kids need,” Ashley said.

An average of 110 children participated in afternoon programming each weekday.

Other stats include:

Eleven pre-kindergarten-age children took part in the Kindergarten Jump Start program led by Dodge County Head Start.

Fifty-seven students in grades kindergarten through fourth participated in the Fremont Public Schools’ STEAM program. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

An average of 45 students in grades 5-12 were active in the Hope Center for Kids in Fremont.

Kids in the STEAM program took part many fun activities, Ashley said.

The children went to Camp Calvin Crest, where they played human foosball, gaga ball and had a picnic lunch. There were field trips to Fremont’s Ronin Pool, Splash Station and Plaza Lanes; Pawnee Plunge in Columbus and Hope Skate in North Omaha.

University of Nebraska Extension in Dodge County helped the STEAM program with a community garden project at Linden Elementary School in Fremont.

Children from preschool age through fourth grade had programming at The Presbyterian Church of Fremont.

Four churches helped lead daily chapel times for younger children in June and July. They focused on the fruit of the spirit from the New Testament book of Galatians. Different themes included: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The children had the opportunity to sing, learn about the theme and what the Bible says and how to apply it to their lives, Ashley said.

Older students in afternoon programs at Fremont’s Hope Center took part in youth development classes, Bible studies and community service Thursdays.

On Thursdays, the youth gave back to their community in various ways such as cleaning up the landscaping at Luther Hormel Memorial Park. They assisted with projects at Fremont Church of the Nazarene, the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and Rebuilding Together.

Hope Center youth, who earned the trip by participating and having a positive attitude and good behavior, were taken to the Minneapolis, Minnesota area to visit several colleges.

Those kids also participated in an indoor soccer tournament at the Hope Center building, an activity which Ashley said is always fun.

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Ashley believes the program benefits children and youth in a variety of ways.

“Being involved in the Summer Lunch Program helps kids keep their minds active in learning and also gives them a safe place to build relationships with adults who care about them and other kids sometimes from other schools that they might not normally get to know,” he said. “It strengthens their social skills and it’s also shown to improve their academic test scores.”

Last year, children in grades kindergarten through fourth in the program scored three points higher than their peers in the Northwest Evaluation Association (school assessment test) reading scores in the Fremont Public Schools system, Ashley said.

Youth in grades fifth through eighth in the program scored two points higher in math on their NWEA school assessment tests.

“We attribute that to the hands-on learning opportunities that the children have to continue reading, doing math and science projects and staying engaged in meaningful learning opportunities throughout the summer,” Ashley said.

The Salvation Army coordinated all of the meals. The Hope Center bus and van from The Presbyterian Church provided transportation from all the elementary schools to the church for lunch and then took older kids to the Hope Center for afternoon programming.

Many agencies, businesses, churches and individuals contributed in various ways to the program.

“One of the greatest things about the Summer Lunch Program is that not only does it help meet a need in our community, but it also gives the opportunity for our community to come together in partnership and service toward a common goal,” Ashley said. “As a result, relationships are built and strengthened and lives are impacted in a meaningful way.”

Ashley also believes one of the best parts about the program is seeing the children, the volunteers and the staff enjoy being, having fun and learning together.

He noted something else:

“The Summer Lunch Program is an investment in the children and youth of our community in that it helps them to more fully realize their potential,” he said. “It helps to keep them safe and active throughout the summer, providing nutritious meals and active learning opportunities. This means they return to the school in the fall better prepared and with an improved sense of connection to our community.

“We are all better off when we love our neighbors.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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