Written by: Sara Smith (Americorps VISTA)
Does your community add value to your life? When you step outside every day, can you say that you love the community you live in? Have you EVER considered how your community affects your life?
The experiences we have shape and mold the way that we choose to interact with other people; it affects our perspective, it alters the way we think, and often times we don’t take time out to notice how we are truly affected by our environment. It affects our minds, the way we feel about ourselves, and most importantly it affects what we feel we have the ability and accessibility to do. We get comfortable in what we know and what “works” for us and we adapt an attitude of, “this is just the way things are.” At times, we tend to feel that we are not in control of some of the things that happen around us.
We as adults have lived long enough to understand that we do have options, although sometimes limited, as to what we experience and how we choose to let those things affect our lives but children do not have the same ability, so it then becomes a responsibility of their parent/guardian to make them aware of what life has to offer. But what happens when there is not a parent/guardian with the ability to guide and direct available to the child?
This is a challenge that many inner-city children face. Often times, parents of inner-city children have critical life-issues that they have to deal with and it may affect the quality of life they can provide for their children; some parents are not even physically present in the daily lives of their children. So when a child comes home from school, what do they have to guide and direct them?
School only accounts for half of a child’s day; the same amount of time they have to learn in a controlled environment is equal to the time they have in an environment where they have the option to do other things, positive and negative. Inner-city children tend to be more exposed to violence, drugs, and crime because of the lack of positive adult involvement. Many of those children are left to “fend for themselves” in the communities that they live in.
Most times, the communities these inner-city children live in do not offer structured programs and options for the child to participate in during their time outside of school. Often times, these children are crowded out by busy streets and “low-income” options. The environment that a child grows up in will impact the level of success they will achieve, their self-esteem, and their motivations. I can personally agree to these things because I am a product of an inner-city environment, and my parental involvement was slim to none. What “saved me” was after school programs and people directing me to positive community interaction.
It is was so easy for me to discover alternatives to going to school, while attending high school and middle school; other things seemed more important like how I was going to make enough money to compensate for what my parent could not, to feel “normal,” or to not seem disconnected from other children in my school who seemed privileged enough to obtain luxury things. I chose to work two jobs when I reached the age of 16 so I could provide things for myself that my parents could not and previous to that I used my ability to do hair to provide me with excess funding. I had the financial support of my mother and I was blessed enough to have a grandparent available to do what she could to raise me, but my mother spent most of her time at work and I rarely saw her and my grandmother was not able to “entertain my interests” enough to keep me, an active child, occupied. I felt robbed of my childhood.
During my high school years, I decided to get involved in a sport (volleyball) and so from there my time was taken up by school, work, and sports. The sport was offered through a local Indy Parks location, and there I met friends and more importantly a mentor. I’m not sure she understood how much of an impact she made in my life. She was available to discuss my personal issues and she also provided a program that helped me to build character. At times when I felt I had no one, my coach was a person who filled the physical spot of my parent; she cared, she poured knowledge into me, she genuinely gave a effort towards providing a quality experience for me, this gave me hope. I felt like I was capable of achieving whatever she told me I could because of our personal attachment; she was more than just a coach.
My point here is that without that experience, my mind would have been flooded with some not so healthy options. I have had friends that traveled different paths, some in which are not alive today, and I understand how the impact of a child’s environment can affect their ability to mentally function. I developed low-self esteem because I did not feel that anyone who was “supposed” to be there to love and support me was available. I was a child, I knew nothing of bills, obligations, and what the life of an adult included. I was granted a scholarship but even that was not enough to make me feel valued because I didn’t feel that I had the ability to even make it out of high school, I didn’t have the confidence to pursue a higher education because no one in my family had the ability to graduate from college, let alone attend one.
Unknowing of my peers situations, I felt alone, incapable, and undervalued but now as I am older I understand that it was a challenge that most of my friends and other children in my school faced. Yes, every child has an “equal opportunity” but it’s up to that child to equip themselves with what they need to accomplish that, and not all children know what that is and lack guidance on how to get there. Fortunately, I did accomplish the hard task of making it to college, and the even more challenging one of completing my college career. But there are still interpersonal issues I face while functioning in society because of my experiences as a child.
After-school and community programs saved my life, and many lives of inner-city children. They are a valuable part of giving the children an option to be more than their situation, to excel, to become someone. It is tragic to see many after-school programs being cut due to lack of funding, if we truly care about investing in our children’s lives and making an impact, ensuring that they have a healthy environment to learn and grow in is key; learning does not only take place in the classroom.
People who run after-school programs may not be aware of their impact, and I am here to say that I am a survivor of my situation because of YOU!!!!
I would like to see after-school programs become that turning point in children’s lives that have no other options. So I would like to provide you with some sources to some access funding. Let’s go out and make the needed difference in the lives of the children in our communities; our future.
After-school funding websites: