Saturday, Jun 06th

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No Kidding with our Kids After School Activities Program

DSC_0936~ Celebrates 20 years of caring, teaching, & fun ~


“We will continue on our path with dedication and we cherish the trust you put in us.” These words are found in the booklet given to parents at the No Kidding with our Kids Foundation After School Activities (ASA) Program – a concept this foundation’s organizers virtually invented 20 years ago. This simple phrase exemplifies the attitude and energy given to the children enrolled in the non-profit program. It truly is a labour of love.


The program, designed for children with too much time on their hands, began in 1995 in the days after Hurricane Luis. Two ladies from our community saw a need and knew they had to take action. Merlyn Schaminee-Miguel and Ineke Konings had a vision to help struggling families and they followed their dream full force.


They began to organize a safe environment for children to come to in the afternoon hours before parents come home from work. The youngsters would arrive after school, get a hot nutritious meal and receive academic assistance as well as play games, do crafts, plant a garden and read for pleasure.


RIGHT AWAY, the program was a big hit with families all over the island. They received funding from the Catholic School Board for the first three years and when that came to an end, they formed their foundation and managed to organize funding from Holland through a Youth Urgency Program which took them to 2004.


The search for funds continued as each time they struggled to keep the After School Program going. There were often tight-money situations and at one point they had to keep the program on track by dipping into their own salaries. Konings told WEEKender, “We knew we had to keep it going, we had more than 100 children who needed us, plus our employees, there really wasn’t a question of closing. We had work to do.”


IN THOSE EARLY days, their location moved periodically wherever they could find adequate space. They would set up in whichever school could give them some room, but then they found a more permanent home at the Lion’s Club’s new building: Upper Prince’s Quarter Community Centre (Sucker Garden Road #13). Here they have plenty of space to store their materials and let the little ones work on projects. The main office for the organization is located there and staffed from 8:00am to 4:30pm every weekday. There are dedicated quiet rooms where certified teachers are available to help students do their homework. Now the program boasts a second location in Retreat Estate, opposite Ruby Labega School.


Funding from St. Maarten Development Fund and government stipends helps with covering the various costs, such as building rents, staff salaries, materials and the odd miscellaneous expenses, but still the operation must charge a fee to the parents for their services. Parents aren’t heard to complain, however, because they see the value. “Overall, it’s a great deal for the money, as the fees are extremely affordable and they are always there for us,” said Frantz Pierre, who has had his son in the program for nine years. “I am extremely grateful as a parent. This is like a second home for my son. He can take a bus here from the school and get a good meal, do his work. I don’t have to worry; I can pick him up after work and I don’t stress so much.”


THE KEY TO the ASA program’s success is partly due to those good relationships with parents. “We are always there for them,” said Konings. “Our team leaders and homework teachers’ phone numbers are given out so if anyone needs help, they can contact us.” Some of the families have been coming for years with each new child rising up through the ranks and then moving on into their secondary schooling. Pierre noted, “The teachers and leaders are always available; they always make you feel welcome, whatever your problem is, they always listen with a smile.”


Another parent, Mrs. Ana Slac, shared that her daughter has felt comfortable, safe and happy in the program. She emphasized that young children truly need teachers and school staff that show kindness as the ASA team does. “I appreciate everything that was done for [my daughter]. She will be leaving to go to St. Dominic [next year] but during her free time, she will come back and visit.”


WHEN FORMER students come back to visit, it is particularly rewarding to Konings and Schaminee-Miguel. They related that one young girl who attended their program years ago recently was sent by her employer Price Waterhouse Coopers do perform an audit on the program’s books. No worries, they passed! But what a joy the educators felt seeing her success!


“Communication is so important,” Schaminee-Miguel shared. “We use facebook, phone calls, emails and letters home; we also work with the teachers.” With all the creative and enriching things planned for the children, everyone agrees that academics come first. “Sometimes the children have hours of homework to do, but they have to do that before they can do the crafts or group activities.”


THOSE COMMUNITY school activities are curricula designed to cover specific topics such as morals and values, pollution or living healthy lives. Staff members take their little ones through a series of stages where they first discover what a topic is, then connect it to the real world by understanding its importance, applying what they have learned and practicing it. The goal is to build social skills and self-esteem. “They learn how to address each other, how to have self-discipline, and make moral decisions,” said Schaminee-Miguel. “They collaborate on projects, even debate and campaign for certain points of view; it’s very nice.”


The ASA summer camp “Adventure Time” begins on July 6 and is open to all children. It runs for two weeks 7:30am-4:30pm. For more information, check the facebook page No Kidding with our Kids Foundation, or call 542-4925.