Staff at Hope Center for Kids-Fremont gave members of the public a look into some of the things they do for area youth on a daily basis during the center’s Winter Lunch and Learn event on Friday.
After beginning the program during the fall of 2014 in a room at the Fremont Nazarene Church, and moving to its permanent location at 555 W 23rd Street in 2015, the after-school program continues to grow.
“We moved into this location in May of 2015 and we have just continued to see numbers grow,” Executive Director Brenda Block said at the event. “On a daily basis we serve around 60, so there are quite a few kids in here.”
During the biannual Lunch and Learn event, various staff members at Hope Center gave tours of the center and filled in attendees on some of the programs offered at the center.
On weekdays during the school year, the program starts at about 4 p.m. The Hope Center partners with the Food Bank of the Heartland to provide snack, which are basically small types of cold meals.
Volunteers and staff help tutor students during a homework time, which lasts for one hour for high school students and 45 minutes for middle school pupils.
“We check their grades monthly and set goals for them to accomplish with their grades and they receive prizes or incentives,” Tara Starkey, youth coordinator for Hope’s middle school program, said.
One incentive of meeting educational goals for the students, is the chance to visit colleges both in- and out-of-state.
“At the end of that they earn college visits, we go on one in-state college visit a year, so just around the Nebraska Iowa area and then we go on two out-of-state visits,” Starkey said. “So at the beginning and end of each school year we do a visit, and we have gone to Minnesota a couple of time as well as places in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado.”
After the homework period, students can have free time during which they can play sports like soccer, basketball or football, or video games. They can play on computers, too.
The center also has a computer lab with 20 Chromebooks that youth can use for homework or play.
“We actually just got 20 Chromebooks this school year, we did have just five desktop computers and it was a struggle because a lot of our kids like to use the computers,” Starkey said. “They are nice because they are what the kids use at school as well, so all the kids know how to use them and work them better than I do. They use them for homework, free time, they really love it.”
Next comes nightly classes. High school students have classes in financial literacy and employability skills. The center pays for students to take a Gallup Strengthfinder test which can show them their top five strengths as individuals.
According to Starkey, the younger kids also participate in a weekly life skills class.
“On Tuesday nights with the fifth through eight graders we do a life skills class and we teach them about respecting others, and about their strengths and how to utilize those, and resolving conflicts,” she said. “Last semester we did a job and college course with them just to try to get them to understand the different types of colleges they can go to and the different types of degrees they can pursue and the importance of that.”
The Lunch and Learn event also gave the public a look into two new programs administered by Hope Center through a partnership with the Fremont Family Coalition known as Youth Leadership and Opportunity Passport.
The Youth Leadership and Opportunity Passport programs at Hope Center are headed by Cindy Reed, and serve kids from ages 14-24.
“Basically the idea is, for a young person who ages out of the Hope Center program, what can we do for them to continue to support them into adulthood,” she said.
Both programs are open to Dodge County youth ages 14-24 and serve youth who have been in the Nebraska foster care system, have had contact with child protective services, have experience the juvenile justice system, or are homeless or near-homeless.
“The Youth Leadership Program involves connecting one-on-one and just building relationships, letting them know that there is somebody there for them that is interested in their wellbeing,” Reed said. “We just work on goals and make sure they are accomplishing what they set out to do, and that they have all of the resources they need to make those things happen.”
According to Reed, the Opportunity Passport program involves the same group, of what is now around 22 young people, with a savings match program.
“They come and do some financial literacy stuff they learn about banking basics. They learn about building credit, repairing credit and then they start saving money for an asset,” she said. “They can then use the program to match that on a 2-to-1 ratio to purchase something like a car or house or to start building their credit or maybe pay off debt that they have so they don’t have that as a barrier for their future.”
Following a tour of the facility, attendees sat down to enjoy the lunch portion of the event, which was donated by Raising Cane’s, while also hearing a few success stories about students Hope Center has served.
Fremont Site Director Jonah Renter provided several stories of kids who have benefitted, or are currently benefitting from the organization’s services. One of which, focused on a student named Tyrone who just recently came to Hope Center.
“Tyrone went through a very personal loss this past year and actually joined us this fall,” Renter said. “His dad works in Omaha and they live in North Bend and he goes to school in Fremont, so that is just a crazy schedule and he needed somewhere to go after school. When he first started he was very in his shell, and was struggling just because of the loss he experienced.”
“It has been amazing and inspiring just watching him grow and watching him connect with the staff and meeting friends, he just continues to grow.”
According to Renter, Tyrone just recently celebrated his birthday at Hope Center along with his father, staff, and other Hope kids.
“This past week he had his birthday here and his dad bought this massive beautiful birthday cake to share with all of the kids and he just loved every minute of it. He loves the connectedness and the family he has at the Hope Center.”
In April, Hope Center will be holding a benefit dinner at the Woodcliff Community Center. The dinner is planned for Thursday, April 26 with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. and a dinner and program at 7 p.m.
Individual tickets to the dinner are $75 and a table of eight is $500, with all proceeds going towards Hope Center’s mission to provide for area youth.
Those interested in attending can register online at hopecenterforkids.com.