Article and photos by Urban Alliance staff.
Once the afternoon bells rings, thousands of Hartford students pour out the doors of their schools and set foot into the three-hour window that is described as the peak for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol and other harmful behaviors. This window of negative effect often stems from the constant juggling act that many working parents face to provide for their families or to be able to supervise their children during the after-school hours.
For five years, Vicki Huffman has been fueled by love to ensure that Hartford families aren't placed in this predicament. Two years ago, she designed and established Kids Klub, a safe, loving and structured free after-school program at South Church that, along with Huffman's smile, continues to grow.
Huffman, who bases her ministry on the Bible verse Luke 2:52, believes in the critical components of holistically helping children to succeed. Kids Klub provides elementary and middle-school youth with the support they need to grow academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually.
Veronica Padilla, a full-time working mother of four children who participate in Kids Klub, shared, "I see a difference in this program from other after-school programs. They really get hands-on with the children. My son had a hard time learning his words. Now he comes home and his words are on the refrigerator and he tells me, 'Oh! I know this word!' and he will grab a book and try to read the words. My son is learning through this program."
She added, "Ever since my daughter has been in the program her math skills have improved majorly. I'm always getting comments over and over from her teachers about how she has improved."
Padilla's three daughters, ages 11, 10, and 8, have been participating in Kids Klub for two years and her 5 year-old son just started this year.
"They are so happy there. I don't have to wonder where my kids are when they are there. It's a safe place that I can trust and I have such peace of mind when they are there," she said.
"I like doing my homework," said 11-year old Elaina. "I like that the people there are always smiling and so energetic. I love how Mrs. Vicki teaches about God."
Her sister, 10-year old Celinda, agreed. "It's very fun. I like that we learn about kids in different countries who don't have the things we have and that we should always be grateful for our parents."
5-year old Daniel added, "I like to do my homework and play games with my friends."
"Once you come to the program, you'll love it!" encouraged 8-year old Gianna.
And this is what fuels Huffman's passion.
"This ministry is what I call the 'frosting on the cake to my career,'" she explained, "I'm serving under-resourced children who need to have people in their lives to guide them spiritually and provide them with resources."
Through participation in Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative, which helps children and youth achieve academic success, develop character and receive support through healthy relationships by collaboratively increasing the impact of local in- and out-of-school programs, South Church has been able to expand those resources in significant ways.
Dedicated volunteers matched through UAServe provide tutoring, after-school assistance, and weekly meals for the children at Kids Klub. Grant funding has allowed Huffman to hire a young adult who will develop leadership and employment skills as a Summer Meals Program Assistant. World Vision's Youth Empowerment Institute workshops gave Huffman and a group of her middle-school students the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills around being agents of change in their community.
Quarterly gatherings with other local children and youth program leaders provide Huffman with the opportunity to learn and grow alongside her peers.
Donated Yoobi products from World Vision provided all of the children in Kids Klub with brand new school supplies. And, monthly visits to World Vision's Essential Supplies Center gives Huffman the ongoing opportunity to "shop" for supplies for Kids Klub at no cost.
"I was able to give brand new lunch bags to middle-school girls in our program and their family members. The girls are so proud of them," Huffman shared. "And I plan to give some more to the eighth graders who are graduating."
One lunch bag-recipient was Elaina, Padilla's daughter who is also a junior leader at Kids Klub.
"These kids are growing in mind, body and spirit, and it's because of Urban Alliance. It's just overwhelming. Our ministry would not be where we are without UA," shared Huffman. "My dreams and my passions were much bigger than I had the capacity to do. What I see Urban Alliance doing is providing that capacity-building piece. Just knowing there are other people out there that you can call on is very powerful."
And just as Urban Alliance has provided resources to collaboratively help South Church strengthen their youth program, South Church continues to provide an incredible resource to Hartford families, a sentiment shared by Padilla.
"Ever since I signed my children up for this program it has improved our lives for the better. I hope it stays around for a long time."
Next Generation is an Urban Alliance initiative that helps children and youth achieve academic success, develop character, and receive support through healthy relationships by collaboratively increasing the impact of local in- and out-of-school programs. Click here to learn more.
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