Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm a Good Neighbor

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia is a prime destination spot for any city dweller wishing to experience the calming atmosphere of fresh water and crisp mountain air. In fact, many affluent DC residents choose to retire in this lake side community only four hours from the city, where traveling by boat is quicker than driving around the nearly 500 mile shoreline. However, the picturesque nature of this vacation spot grows dim mere miles inland from the shore. In the nearby schools, over 70% of the students are on free or reduced lunches and rural poverty can be seen within miles of a lakeside mansion. In 2009, during the summer of my sophomore year in college, I interned for a start-up non-profit initially created to remedy the summer feeding gap for local children. Through the summers, this simple idea grew and expanded into a summer enrichment program serving hundreds of children and bonding together two fiscally diverse populations into a symbiotic community.

Since living in D.C. and working with DCAYA on issues such as expanded learning and summer programming, I have realized that rural and urban poverty may look different on the surface, but in reality share many attributes. One of the most ambitious and successful programs of the SML Good Neighbors Day Camp is Reading Buddies, where a member of the community sits and reads with a child every day for 30 minutes. In the 2010 Assessment Report, SML Good Neighbors found that 88% of the children who participated in the summer enrichment program either maintained or improved their reading scores over the summer. The District has many non-profits that utilize a similar strategy to prevent the summer slide, which researchers have proven most negatively affects low income children. D.C. is also ranked number one in the country for best summer feeding program. Showing summer programming enriches both the minds and bodies of our neighborhood children.

The three summers I spent interning for SML Good Neighbors reinforces my passionate stance for quality summer programming. Just because school lets out for the summer does not mean children’s brains should shut down for three long months. At the same time, summer should be fun. Summer enrichment programs are the best way to provide necessary services such as nutritional meals and educational programming to children in a positive, socially enriching and engaging way so they may grow into productive adults.

The slogan “I’m a Good Neighbor” is displayed on the back of each campers t-shirt. All children need quality, year round supports no matter their family’s income level or geographic location. With summer around the corner, we can all be Good Neighbors by supporting our local summer enrichment programs.

To learn more about SML Good neighbors visit their website or watch this short video about the day camp.

Find a summer enrichment program in D.C. through The Bridge Project DC website. To find a summer feeding program in the District, DC Hunger Solutions provides an easy to use Google map.

Angela Massino is the communications associate at DCAYA. If you would like to stay current on youth issues in the District FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook and check out our website

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