By Vanessa Mosharaf
(DALLAS, Texas) — Ten-year-old Kewona Jones from Wynnewood Community Services Center confidently shared a poem she wrote called Stress Relief to an audience of her peers. As she spoke words of wisdom well beyond her years, the lull was broken by cheers from the next group waiting to perform.
There were no judges and no score cards, just fun at the first-ever community-wide Buckner after-school program talent show. Children from community programs at Vickery Wellness Center, Diamond Creek, Wynnewood and Broadway Baptist Church demonstrated their talents through dancing, singing, poetry and stepping.
It was one of the many events keeping kids busy at Buckner community centers this summer.
“We wouldn’t do anything if we didn’t come to Vickery; we would just be bored watching TV or something,” said Karla Valdez, 16, who performed in three multicultural dances with other Vickery girls at the talent show.
The adolescent boys and girls at Wynnewood organized their annual Fourth of July cookout for South Dallas children and their families, said Johnny Flowers, Wynnewood site coordinator.
Justin Donalson, 14, has been coming to the after-school program at Wynnewood for almost 10 years. As elected president of the adolescent group, he is in charge of organizing events like the cookout, he said. He grilled hotdogs and hamburgers with his famous “special sauce.”
“We are role models for our younger siblings and the other kids,” Donalson said. “Coming here has helped me make good decisions.”
Decision making is an important theme at all of the community centers’ after-school programs, said LaTesha Brewer, life skills leader at Pennsylvania Place. By talking about the difficult decisions the children may face at school or at home, they reinforce Christian values in a fun, engaging way.
This year Pennsylvania Place partnered with Broadway and Volunteers of America to create an uplifting environment that catered to the different age groups.
In one group, seven teenagers and a Volunteer of America representative talked about issues like suicide, violence, love and education.
The informal dialogue allows release for the children, Brewer said.
Pennsylvania Place also hosted the first free ‘Side-By-Side’ cooking classes for children and families in the community. The classes, presented by Operation Frontline, included professional chefs and nutritionists to provide families with tools for healthy eating on a limited budget, said AmeriCorps intern and Operation Frontline representative Rachel Head.
“It’s very fun to see how kids are interested in cooking and helping in the kitchen,” Head said.
Watermark Community Church worked with children in the Vickery Meadows community through a week-long Vacation Bible School. David Penuel, the junior high pastor at Watermark, said he started the program as a way for his students to experience missions with children close to their age.
“We want to reinforce what (Buckner is) already doing here,” Penuel said. “The real change is in our junior high students who are learning how to serve.”
Alli Gilmore, 15, from Watermark, said “It makes you accountable to your own faith, knowing that what you do matters to the kids.”
Diamond Creek, the newest Buckner community center in East Dallas, has seen tremendous growth since its opening last year, especially during the summer, explained Adrain Blackwell, site coordinator.
“We opened in June 2007 with seven kids, and now we have 57,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell said he places special emphasis on integrating the center with families living at Diamond Creek Apartments.
“Thanks to the trust the Diamond Creek families have with us, we are able to work together to influence the entire community,” Blackwell said.
Volunteers are always needed to help with the after-school and summer programs at Buckner community centers. For more information on volunteering, contact Buckner Volunteer Coordinator in Dallas Magen Bunyard at 213-321-4534 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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