Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
Courtesy of Jerry Hale
SML Good Neighbors Summer Learning Camp intern Ty Haywood from Ferrum College does a “What would happen if…?” experiment with a group of campers.
Friday, September 27, 2013
This is the final story in a series of articles profiling the charities that will benefit from the SML Charity Home Tour, which will be held Oct. 11-13.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Since the spring of 2006, a small group of dedicated volunteers with a special place in their hearts for the young has been leading the Smith Mountain Lake community in a mission to help its most vulnerable children.
SML Good Neighbors Inc. is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that works with children from six elementary schools in Bedford and Franklin counties. The children , from families with limited resources , are given the opportunity to attend a summer enrichment day camp offering academic mentoring along with fun and creative exploration.
Russ Baskett is a retired educator who brings more than 40 years of teaching and mentoring to his role as co-founder, president and executive director of SML Good Neighbors.
"Our priority is to create a safe place for children where they are valued and get lots of one-on-one attention", Baskett said.
The summer camps, which operate all day, five days per week for four weeks, are offered at no cost to the families . There is an emphasis on reading, writing and math and on enhancement of communication skills.
Other daily enrichment programs provided include nature, peace education and cultural diversity.
This past summer, 160 children participated in the camps at Dudley and Moneta elementary schools
Th e program is made possible by a legion of dedicated volunteers and carefully selected college interns as the primary facilitators. While the academic enrichment model is structured, interns are encouraged to bring their own skills and creativity to challenge and engage the campers.
"We recruit nationwide and are amazed at the talent and diversity these young people bring to our program," says Baskett. "This past summer we had nine interns from eight different colleges and universities. Several Bonner Scholars were included this year and four interns were accomplished musicians, who brought a whole new level of energy and inspiration for our kids."
SML Good Neighbors also provides breakfasts, lunches and snacks for the children. The nutritious breakfasts and hot lunches are served daily at no cost, made possible by a USDA-sponsored program, but picked up and delivered by a team of volunteers. Parents must provide transportation, but volunteers help families coordinate ride-sharing; some families received gas cards to help get their kids to camp. For the past three summers, a school bus has been funded by a Twenty-First Century grant.
The Weekend Backpack program sends food and supplies home with a backpack full of goodies. They are packed by volunteers who meet at area churches each week. Interns and "reading buddies" select a new book for weekend reading, and there is always a personal note inside encouraging kids to read and share their camp experiences with their families.
The Junior Counselor program has been created to include middle school children who also play a leadership role as morning helpers and reading buddies. They supervise recreational activities and have their own enrichment programs in the afternoon.
None of this would be possible without the guidance of Beth Kline, SML Good Neighbors full-time program director. Lisa Lietz works as database manager, web master and director of social media.
Teachers and principals are another critical component of the program.
"We have a 100 percent trust system with our educators," said Baskett. "They are vital to help identify and recommend families in need of this program. Priority is given to children who may have a military parent deployed overseas and families with other special needs. Thanks to generous community support and our dedicated volunteers, no child has ever been turned away."
Teachers have reported that children who have attended the camps have exhibited "good neighbors" skills in the classroom. Peace education teaches a model for children to communicate and work through conflicts with others. Nature, global and cultural diversity models help children to see the world with new eyes.
Twenty educators, engineers, retired CEO s and business professionals comprise the SML Good Neighbors board of directors. Another 200 volunteers, nine interns and two staff members have helped make the program sustainable and successful.
Funding comes from community churches, grants, and special events such as a miniature golf tournament and the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour. Tickets are on sale for a benefit concert by the New Crusty Minstrels at the SML YMCA on Oct . 25-26. For more information about the tour, visit www.smlcharityhometour.com. For more information about SML Good Neighbors summer enrichment programs, call 798-2332 or visit www.smlgoodneighbors.org.
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes