Article by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
For many children, summer vacation is a much-deserved reward for a year of hard work in the classroom. For some who rely on free and reduced-price school meals, however, the summer months can be difficult. When school is out, these children no longer have access to school meals and their families’ budgets are often stretched to the breaking point. In fact, studies show that kids are at a higher risk for both obesity and hunger during the summer months. Many families also face the stress of providing safe, supervised and affordable places for children and teens to socialize, play and continue to learn.
House of Restoration Church, on Main Street in Hartford, has worked hard for three summers to ensure that families don’t face this burden, and that children in their neighborhood are provided with free meals throughout the summer.
This year, Urban Alliance partnered with Community Renewal Team (CRT) and Foodshare, through UA’s Next Generation initiative, to provide training, grant funding and food for 11 churches and ministry organizations, including House of Restoration Church, to become Summer Meals Program host sites. These host sites, speckled throughout Hartford, address hunger by offering meals, provided by CRT at no cost, to children and youth throughout the summer.
“The meals has enabled us to create a time where parents and children have time to sit, eat and connect with others,” shared Miguel Vazquez, youth leader at House of Restoration Church. “We can impact the lives of the children and pre-teens that are around the community and have responded to our invitation to participate in the Summer Meals Program.”
Better yet, also as part of UA’s Next Generation initiative, 12 youth were provided with opportunities to build leadership and employment skills as Summer Meals Program assistants.
“The grant allowed us to provide two summer meals assistants an opportunity to further develop their leadership skills, earn a stipend for the work and efforts they gave to make the program a success, and develop a passion to serve the community just as Jesus came to serve, not be served,” said Vazquez.
Marisol Vazquez, 16, and Valerie Medina, 18, served as summer meals assistants at House of Restoration Church.
“Being summer meals assistants has given us the role of being leaders,” they shared. “It has taught us to be responsible and prepare ahead of time for things to run smoothly. It has also given us the opportunity to think creatively to come up with activities that can help us engage with the local community and church families.”
The two assistants worked collaboratively to promote the program and lead in the distribution and monitoring of the meals the children received.
“They both have unique leadership qualities and have found a way to work together to reach the community,” shared Miguel.
With bellies and hearts full, the summer months come to a close. But, the opportunity to build new relationships and build on newly gained skills is just beginning, as the two summer meals assistants explained, “This opportunity has made an impact on us because it developed our skills into being better leaders. We enjoyed it because we connected and were able to create meaningful relationships with kids from the community.”
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