There are children in Morgan County living through a revolving door of neglect. They’re returning home each day from school, in many cases without adult supervision, because mom or dad or grandma or grandpa is working to try to put food on their table. Even worse, some of these kids are going back to abusive (physical, sexual, verbal) homes to relive yesterday’s nightmare. It’s no wonder some, if not many of these children turn to drugs, alcohol, and/or criminal activity to escape their reality. They believe there is no hope for them or their future.
The Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC) is proud and honored to partner with the Martinsville Youth & Development Center (MYDC) and Executive Director Shelby Wilson to help break the cycle of generational poverty, but more importantly, give these kids a safe place to build their confidence, eat nourishing foods, and learn new skills.
“My sister and I were fortunate to have parents who always put us first before their own needs,” said Shelby. “My dad always pushed us to do our best by giving 110% effort in everything we did. My mom was so supportive and our biggest cheerleader. She made time to take us to all of our activities.”
At a young age Shelby had a passion to help underprivileged kids develop and have productive lives. “My parents came from different backgrounds but learned with determination they could beat the odds. I’m thankful for them teaching me about awareness, self-confidence, and to never give up,” she added.
MYDC opened in 2015 to serve students (fifth to eighth grade) at both John R. Wooden and Bell Intermediate Academy. Open Monday-Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., the Center averages 35 students daily, a number that’s doubled since last year. Wilson expects attendance to grow as more families experience generational poverty in our community.
“While they’re at the Center we’re able to give them a window into what else life should look like.” said Wilson. “Kids are thinking it’s normal to live in poverty. We’re helping them to understand they don’t have to live this way. They can do something different.”
Shelby and her team of volunteers provide a structured, safe and trustworthy program with times slotted for homework/study, snacks, life skill lessons, and physical activities. The Center has rooms for arts, computer lab, library, games, school studies, batting cage, and dodgeball/pickleball.
According to Wilson, 52% of students participated in the free or reduced lunch program during the 2017-2018 school year compared to 28% reported in 2008. Most families living in poverty can’t afford school athletic programs, other recreational services or buy healthier foods. As a result, many of them are overweight or obese, have low self-esteem, and are increasing their chances for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
At least twice a week, students are required to participate in life skill lessons designed to build their self-confidence, set and achieve goals, and build healthy relationships, just to name a few of their lesson goals. “The impact we give our youth is second to none,” said Wilson. “We’re connecting them with mentors they can trust and who give them hope. The kids learn they don’t have to settle and it’s possible to be successful.”
Those life skill lessons are “ramped up” over the summer when MYDC hosts a summer camp with Jumpstart and Youth Connections. Open to students 8-16 years old, this camp is four weeks and is an all-day event.
CFMC saw the need in our community and provided the original Impact Grant funding and planning for MYDC to start its “Become a Better You” (BCBY) program in 2017-18, and still supports it for 2019. In partnership with CFMC, Bradford Woods, Martinsville School District, IU Health Morgan, and Strength School, BCBY uses life skill lessons, nutrition classes, counseling and physical activities to address physical and mental needs of both families and students living in poverty, struggling with obesity and/or who are considered to be at-risk.
During the current school year, BCBY had a pilot phase that involved 12 students completing the entire program. “These kids exceeded our expectations,” Wilson added.
Results from the BCBY pilot were:
- 51% students improved socially
- 52% achieved academic improvement
- 100% experienced increased self-esteem
- 100% improved consecutive push-up skills
- 40% accomplished fitness skills they couldn’t do at program start-up
More importantly, Shelby and her team witnessed the unmeasurable success of BCBY when they saw more smiles on the kids’ faces, students learning to trust adults, and hearing a negative comment such as “I can’t do this” turning into the positive – “I can” or “I will try.”
Throughout the school year and weather permitting, Shelby and her team take students on field trips to Bradford Woods for exciting adventures such as archery, ziplining, canoeing, rock climbing, etc. “These are opportunities for the kids to learn about teamwork, overcoming fear, new skills, and building self-esteem,” Wilson added.
To help boost students’ self-esteem, part of BCBY’s funding allowed the kids to purchase new tennis shoes and one set of workout clothes. “Last year we saw students wearing shoes with holes or snow boots or shoes too small during their physical activities,” Wilson said. “You should have seen their smiles when we told them they would be able to buy new shoes and clothes. It was priceless.”
Shelby is excited about the future of Morgan County youth, but she needs our help to ensure more students can seize their opportunity for a better tomorrow. MYDC is open to all students at John R. Wooden and Bell Intermediate. To access the center for free, families must meet the poverty guidelines. Otherwise, the cost is $20/month.
Shelby would like to keep the Center open all summer, but it will require more funding and volunteers. You can do something to give these students year-round access to the Center by either volunteering your time or giving some of your treasure to MYDC or CFMC to support Impact Grants just like this.
Shelby is always looking for trustworthy adults to mentor our at-risk children. If you were blessed like Shelby to have been raised in a stable and loving home, pay it forward to help a child in need. Your investment now has the potential for a greater return in the future. Go to www.cfmconline.org or call (765) 813-0003 for more information.