An after-school program for Buckskin Elementary students that started three years ago in South Salem is thriving today.
Called ASK (After School Kids), the program in its first year started with about 15 students, but now regularly sees more than 65 students every Tuesday after school. The program is hosted by the South Salem United Methodist Church.
According to Kathy Mincey, church member and one of the program facilitators, there are about 10 youth volunteers and 20 adult volunteers each week that help make it all work. Most of the youth volunteers are graduates of the program, and a lot of the adults are educators and church leadership.
“Everybody has their gifts and graces,” Mincey said, and those are put to good use with the program.
“Each weekly program consists of a prepared snack, a lesson, and an activity. For each program day, Vicki Smith coordinates the activity, Marilyn Mitchell coordinates the food, and Mincey and Cottrill coordinate the lesson.
The children are split into three groups when they arrive and then rotate through each part. The lesson typically is a Bible lesson and music, and the lesson is sometimes prepared by the kids. Activity time can include crafts, exercise or games.
“It sometimes looks a little chaotic, buts it’s organized, intentional activity,” Mincey said.
Every year the children in the program give singing performances for special programs at the church. Mincey said some of the children participate in Sunday worship, too.
Program facilitators at a 2018 school board meeting told board of education members about the program and said the church has gained attendees since the program started. The after school program is “mutually beneficial,” they said, for the children and their families, as well as the church family.
Pastor Scott Smith, who has been with the South Salem church for a year and a half, helps with the program every Tuesday.
“When I first experienced ASK I was astounded that such a small church in such a small village could do so much for the community and its children,” he said. “I was just amazed at the size of the group and the amount and quality of the facilitators. Many of them are or have been professional teachers or administrators, not to mention parents and grandparents with tons of experience in the homes.
“The children and families of the South Salem area know this church and its folks very well, and ASK is just one of the ways our folks interact with them. They feel very comfortable with our people and with our building and with our programs. I continue to be most impressed with the quality and dedication of ASK volunteers.
“These kids are shown the love of God on a regular basis and find acceptance, inclusion and truths about life, which will lead to maturity and moral/ethical behaviors and contribute to self and community,” the pastor said.
Buckskin Elementary Principal Mike Shumate said previously the program was a way to involve the community in the education process. He said that some of the children attending the program were ones that had suffered traumas and tragedies, and some who had no father, mother, or both at home.
In the 2018 school board meeting, Shumate said it is emphasized at Buckskin that the school is a safe place for the children — a place where they don’t have to think about adult problems, like what is going on in the world or at home, and this after-school program is another aspect of that safe place.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by the continued growth of this program,” Shumate said recently. “The ASK Program is not only feeding our students great food, they are also giving them sound knowledge to assist them with continued growth. I applaud them for being the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of these children.”
The district administration also recognizes the benefits of the program.
“The district is so appreciative that the South Salem United Methodist Church has provided Buckskin Elementary students with the opportunity to participate in the ASK Program,” Superintendent Quincey Gray said. “Their commitment to supporting our students is a wonderful example of how our community can make such a positive impact on our students.”
Angela Shepherd is a correspondent for the Greenfield Exempted Village School District.