DeKALB – Marcella Solis looks forward every summer to the week of reading, playing and activities with friends she participates in for free right in her backyard.
The 10-year-old is one of more than 150 children throughout the county who will participate in Neighbors’ House Summer Reading Vacation program, which started this week for residents at Gideon Court.
The Summer Reading Vacations have taken place the past seven summers and have grown in popularity, said Kevin White, director of Neighbors’ House. Each summer features a new event and gives students the opportunity to participate in a physical activity, group reading activity and arts and crafts activity.
Each child gets a free book on the first night of the event.
“It’s helped me with reading,” said Solis, who has attended the program multiple years. “They make us feel great about ourselves.”
Neighbors’ House is a nonprofit, community development organization that features programs such as Homework Help Nights, the Summer Refresher, Reading & Homework Clubs and Summer Reading Vacations throughout the county.
Many of those programs take place in income-eligible housing.
White said the summer program is all about keeping children engaged academically.
“Part of what we’re trying to address is what is known as the summer slide,” White said. “Kids go back to school in the fall further back than where they were when they left in the spring.”
And the students most at risk to suffer a summer slide are those with limited
resources and access to fee-based programs and summer camps. While some of Neighbors’ House programs are held at its base office, White said it did not take long to realize a whole group of students that were not being reached.
By going to locations such as Gideon Court, White said families do not have to worry about the cost of a program or transportation and can stay right on site to take part in the lessons with their children.
“Transportation is an issue, schedules are an issue ... so going to our neighbors makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It’s great doing it right on site and being able to meet the parents and grandparents.”
After Friday, the program will be held at Mason Manor in Sycamore, University Village in DeKalb, the VFW in Genoa and Evergreen Village in Sycamore.
White said the summer program would not be possible without volunteers such as Tracy Minnihan who has helped the organization for the past seven years.
Minnihan, who also volunteers for the Homework Help Night program every Tuesday during the school year, said the summer program is valuable because it keeps children sharp and helps them create a group of friends as many of them come multiple summers.
“We have a lot of return kids and that’s really nice because we can form relationships past the academic part of it,” Minnihan said.
White said the program has been successful in the past as there have been students who go back to school at a higher reading level compared to where they were at the end of spring. He said as funding for schools continues to dwindle and programs are cut, it is important to offer every opportunity for children to learn.
“There is still opportunities out there for kids but it’s becoming harder to find,” White said. “We have the same struggles as any grass-roots nonprofit, but we have a really great base of consistent volunteers.”