In Caddo Parish, approximately 70 percent of students live in poverty. That is about 26,830 children, who struggle to have food, clothes, and many other things most take for granted.
A licensed partnership between Volunteers of America North Louisiana and Communities In Schools (CIS), the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention organization, seeks to eliminate many of these barriers that make it impossible for low-income students to focus on learning.
What is the CIS model? Site coordinators work directly inside the schools to identify school-wide services, as well as offer more one-on-one services to case-managed students. In addition, site coordinators collaborate with community partners and key volunteer groups to build relationships. Together, we empower students to succeed.
Site coordinator, Valtavia Collins, leads the charge at J.S. Clark Elementary.
At the school, a food pantry and clothing closet are easily accessible to all students in need. She also works very closely with around 40 students to improve their academics, behavior and attendance at the school. For the past few years, these identified students also meet weekly with dedicated tutors from the FUMC Friendship Sunday School class and friends.
Around a dozen volunteers show up every Tuesday afternoon to help CIS students with their homework, play educational games and ultimately, foster meaningful relationships.
At the end of the year, the volunteers and students celebrate their academic achievements and annual milestones with a huge party. This year’s party, held on Tuesday, April 30, set the bar high!
Volunteers served each student a bowl of ice cream with delicious toppings, like sprinkles, gummy bears and fresh fruit. Meanwhile, the real surprise waited outside. Students were led in two groups and as each group turned the corner, they all screamed, “Ponies!” followed by more screams, giggles and running.
It is safe to say, the petting zoo may be a yearly party request. In fact, several students now want a bunny as their pet. They even inquired how much a bunny might cost these days!
On behalf of the students at J.S. Clark, we cannot say thank you enough to our generous FUMC volunteers. Because of your commitment to weekly tutoring, we see the improved grades and bigger smiles. Yet, we know the real change in a student’s life is often evident in the things we cannot see.
Because in the end, CIS is about relationships. As Bill Milliken, the founder of CIS, says, “Programs don’t change people, relationships do”.