Matt Moller of Wishful Thinking Foundation and Barbara Neznek, leader of the Community Garden at the Creative Connections Arts Center were the featured speakers at last night’s Neighborhood Watch meeting at St. Stanislaus Church.
Moller, who leads the Homework Club at the Creative Connections Arts Center, said that the club helps anywhere from 20-30 kids looking for help with their homework, Tuesday nights from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. He said that Wishful Thinking got their start organizing basketball tournaments, leagues and sports activities for children in Amsterdam. He said, “One of the things we noticed was that a lot of these kids, whether they were labeled troubled or ‘bad’, they do want to get better and do want to do better at school…They fall behind…and they need that extra push that they aren’t getting in the classroom or they are just not doing on their own at home.”
Moller mentioned that with the kids’ help, the foundation built a computer lab and a work study lounge area in the center, where they meet every Tuesday.
“We get a large turnout, and we can use the homework club to leverage what sports and activities kids can participate in [at Wishful Thinking].”
Moller said that the foundation currently has a basketball travel program, called the Fleet, which travels anywhere from New Jersey to Syracuse, and to be on that team kids need to participate in the homework club. He mentioned the center is a good place to connect with kids for participation in community events, citing the kids’ participation in this spring’s Spring Cleanup.
Barbara Neznek spoke on the Community Garden at the Arts Center, saying “I’m a Master Gardener and my daughter runs a 4-H Club, and I asked Ann [Thane] if I could put in a little garden, for kids who wanted to learn about growing plants. We started in April and by September we have 60 kids…It was difficult, there are just too many kids. But, they knew that there would be good activities…We incorporate lessons into everything we do. We might grow a garden but we’ll read stories on vegetables or farmers or ‘Little house on the Prairie’. Everything we do we try to teach the kids something.”
She said that the program became too big so they stopped it and started a 4-H club instead, that teaches a smaller group of kids, ages 12-17. She said that since, the group has gotten sponsorship from St. Mary’s Hospital and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet to help pay for activities.
“This year they actually paid for a bus, because there is no bussing for the kids from the East end up to the pool, so this year Catholic Charities paid for the bus four days a week to take the kids to the pool.”
“You know, Matt’s organization works from middle school to high school kids; Centro Civico has a nice grant where they do tutoring two days a week, middle school to high school. I think the YMCA has a program for middle school to high school. Everyone wants to help the older ones, but the little ones… Sometimes they come from Puerto Rico and they don’t speak English and they are put in classes where they have to do word problems, and how can you do word problems when you can’t speak English? So, things really have to change there, and we work really hard on helping the little ones with their language deficiencies.”