November 23, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria nonprofit offers a hearty thank you

ELYRIA — Dinner on Friday night came from the hands of small children who wanted nothing more than to show their parents the soup they prepared all by themselves.

They planned the menu, gathered the ingredients and read the recipe that showed them step-by-step how to cook the hearty soup — which was more a stew than soup.

“Everyone made something or did something,” said 12-year-old Isis Drummond, who attends Eastern Heights Middle School. “I cleaned while people cooked, but I didn’t mind because I love it here. It’s very fun with all the kids and activities.”

Inside the small building that houses the nonprofit organization known as Save Our Children, the meal, which was open to the community, was the center’s way of saying, “Thank you.”

“Thank you for trusting us as we rebrand ourselves,” director Lori Angel said.

It was the first such meal since the center reopened its doors in the spring .

“I came on in August 2011, and we were broke,” Angel said. “I wasn’t aware of that when I took the job.”

Before she took over, Angel said the group, which has been a mainstay for children on the south side of Elyria since the 1980s, was spreading itself too thin and not seeking enough funding to support the work. Asbury United Methodist Church initially started Save Our Children in 1983 as a church ministry but eventually the program broke off and became incorporated as a nonprofit.

Within a month of  starting, Angel said she had no choice but to shutter the center because of lack of funding. It was heartbreaking for Angel, whose mother was the center’s board president many years ago.

“But that wasn’t the end of our story. We reopened in spring 2012 because of a former volunteer of SOC who believed in what we could do and revived the program,” she said. “He is now the president of the board, and we are moving ahead without a new mission.”

With the abundance of books in the building, it’s easy to see what that new mission is shaping up to be.

“A majority of our students have difficulty reading,” teacher Stephanie Ricks said. “We go over sight words, and they may know them, but when it comes down to putting them together or taking a test, they just don’t get it.”

Save Our Children operates as a five-day-a-week after-school program for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. For three hour a day, the focus is reading and literacy.

With new changes to state elementary curriculum that call for all third-graders to be reading at grade level before they can advance to the next grade — known best simply as the third grade guarantee — Ricks said the new focus on literacy is a necessity for Save Our Children.

“We are supplementing what our students are learning in school because we don’t want them to fall behind,” she said. “I mean, they really are already behind, so we are catching them up.”

Angel said she can’t stand to see a child not succeed because of an inability to read. She is a retired teacher who worked more than
30 years in the Olmsted Falls Schools where she taught high school students. She saw firsthand the ones that should have gotten extra help in the formative grades.

That is why she is so dedicated to ensuring Save Our Children succeeds and finds the funding to do so. She is also dedicated to ensuring the community knows they are open again and serving children.

“When we started our after-school program right as school was starting in August and on that first day just three kids showed up,” Angel said. “Naturally, we felt defeated because I didn’t know if people still saw a need for Save Our Children in the community.”

Angel’s husband decided to act instead of wonder. He walked the neighborhood going door-to-door recruiting families and children. Today, Save Our Children has 44 children enrolled in the program with a waiting list with 17 more names. There are three classrooms where teachers turn everything into a lesson on the fundamentals of reading.

“Children when they are here — we’re not playing kickball, we’re not going crafts, and we’re not doing computer games,” Angel said. “That’s not to say we don’t do some things or have fun, but everything is about literacy. If you want to do a craft, you have to read the instructions or maybe even decide if the instructions need to be rewritten for better comprehension.

If they want to cook something, they have to read the recipe and explain it step-by-step before we go into the kitchen.

“I want students to read, write, discuss and research,” Angel said.

So far, her efforts have yielding some recognition in the community. Several community members at Friday’s dinner were from the Elyria Home Depot store. The partnership started several months ago when employees came in to do a project with students and, within a day, Angel said she had received a call saying they wanted to do more for Save Our Children.

The relationship has sort of blossomed into the employees adopting Save Our Children as their ongoing service project. Employees did not have a gift exchange this holiday season and instead donated gifts and books to Save Our Children. They have also nominated Save Our Children to possibly receive a new playground through the Home Depot and KaBOOM! partnership.

“I think everything we can do in the community is more needed here than elsewhere,” said employee Fidel Acevedo. “This is for the children.”

Angel beamed with pride as she heard Acevedo speak so highly of her organization but couldn’t do it for too long. A small child walked into her office with a slip of red paper and his mother. The half sheet of paper listed scavenger hunt instructions. Angel said she knew the child had read the words because the last line told them to introduce their parent to her in order to get a prize.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.