Family Bingo Night at Jones SOAR

"Bingo!" Mr. Javier yelled from his table in the back. He had won his first Bingo game. EVER. He had never heard of Bingo. He had no clue what he was getting himself into when his two children had begged him to stay for family bingo night. He had no clue when he said "yes" to his children; and let alone, he had no idea he'd have beginner's luck and win a prize. 

On September 21st we had our first family event of the year at the Jones Center. I had advertised one week in advance and had personally invited families to attend just a couple of days before Bingo Night. I greeted them and reminded them to join us for a night of food, family, and fun hoping to encourage them to come. I had four families that signed up, totaling my numbers up to twenty, and families that verbally told me they would come. I was nervous but very excited to see the outcome for the following day.

Javier & His Family

Javier & His Family

It was finally the day of Family Bingo Night. I was so distressed and worried, especially since I have never had a family event that was specific only to SOAR families, and held in our own program area. I feared that no families would show up and the prizes and pizza I had bought would be a total waste. My mind was in a hundred places at once and my discouraged heart clouded my judgment and my thoughts. A half hour before we kicked off our family night, I distracted myself with clearing bingo boards, finding plates and napkins, and putting the prizes together. (When I am nervous and discouraged, I tend to fidget and distract myself with small busy work.) My colleague, the director of the program, called me out and redirected me to reality. She told me to leave the busy work to her and for me to go get ready to greet families thatwill show up. I repeated that in my head, "will show up, will show up, will show up." And boy, am I forever grateful for her ambitious heart. She saw the positive outcome, and I was only looking at the worst outcome. I let my doubtful heart get the best of me so I chose to rid myself of negative thoughts and I heard a voice telling me "So what if you only have 1-5 people show up? Sit with them. Laugh with them. Play bingo with them. Love them." 

I made my way to the front desk as the last families were checking out of the program. I had one family waiting in the hall and asked them if they were staying and they said "Yes!" There was four of them in the family! My heart leapt for joy and I directed them to the program area. Shortly after, I saw two of our students with their father saying "please, can we stay?" I then went up to Mr. Javier, shook his hand firmly, smiled, and asked how he was and if he'd like to play bingo. He nodded yes and his children jumped with a fist pump as he went to the car to invite his wife, oldest child, and toddler son inside. At this point, I was more than happy to have a total of nine people! Shortly after, a third family arrived and all my doubt was shoved aside. We had fifteen people total. Fifteen! I was ecstatic!

We served the families pizza and I nervously sat down with Mr. Javier's family and asked him about his work and his wife's hobbies. I was afraid the language barrier will shy them away from speaking to me so I kindly asked for his children to translate. I learned that Mr. Javier and his wife has never even heard of the game bingo. I learned about his job and I learned about some of the talents and interests his wife has. I learned about their oldest daughter's passions and strengths in school. I bonded with his two children that are currently in our afterschool program. Oh, how sweet it was to see their faces light up when I would speak to their children! I soon wished I could just sit with them all night and learn more and more about them. But we were running out of time and had a schedule to stick to.

My colleagues were also seeking out families and bonding with them. I was blessed to be able to witness something as simple and kind as them laughing with families, attending to their needs, and serving them to the best of their ability. Words cannot express my gratitude for their help!

Right as we were about to begin the first round of bingo, more and more families kept trickling in. I was preparing bingo and Sam and Andrew were helping families get settled. At one point all three of us were scrambling the get the new families settled! Our number of the night ended at 37! I was so surprised by the number of families that showed up for our first ever family event! What a joy it was to see families enjoying themselves, talking amongst one another, and playing a fun game of bingo. I was completely overwhelmed by tasting and seeing the effect of an afterschool program that brings families together for one purpose--to see grace and love be extended to them as it was extended to us.  

SOAR Cooking Club

What is the secret to having a good time at SOAR? According to Group 5 at Grace Hill, the answer is food! Offered only for our oldest students this semester, Cooking Club is always a hit. Student chefs try a new recipe every week. So far we have made French toast and pasta salad, and upcoming weeks will feature broccoli cheddar soup, stir fry, and meatballs. 

Cooking is a fun, engaging way to practice many different skills. Students are given a printed recipe to work through, so reading and following directions are key. Our 4th and 5th graders are familiar with fractions, a skill they need to use measuring cups and spoons. We encourage independent work as much as possible (even though sometimes it gets a little messy!), so groups know to work together to answer questions before asking a staff member. 

Teamwork is essential in cooking club. The first week, students were divided into groups of four, which will be their cooking teams for the semester. Together, teams are responsible for reading the recipe thoroughly, gathering materials and ingredients, and carefully following the recipe's instructions. Students practice being kind and respectful (two of the SOAR Six!) by distributing duties evenly and making sure each group member gets to participate. So far, we have been very impressed by the teamwork our oldest students have displayed!

Cooking Club is also designed to introduce students to new foods and includes nutrition education. Students are more likely to try foods they have been involved in making -- for example, some of our students tried raw broccoli for the first time in their pasta salad last week! As the semester goes on, we will discuss the MyPlate model, the benefits of each food group, and the importance of choosing a variety of foods from each group to create a healthy diet. The recipes selected for Cooking Club are chosen to give students the ability to make delicious foods from all five food groups!

When asked why they enjoy Cooking Club, student chefs said, "It's different and fun," "I like learning how to make stuff I can cook at home," and "We get to eat!" Fifth grade student Kevin even said, "We should come to school on Saturday so we can have more Cooking Club!" Although only Group 5 is currently participating in Cooking Club, it will be back by popular demand next cycle so more students can have the opportunity to join. If you have a student in Cooking Club, ask them to show you what they've learned!

Garden Club at Parson Hills

Last year the SOAR students assisted in building and creating the garden at Parson Hills Elementary. We started out with six empty raised garden beds. The students decided what type of vegetation they wanted to grow and harvest. They choose to do lettuce, mint, onions, cabbage, spinach, and cauliflower. After getting all our seeds to plant we did research on the proper way to plant and grow all these vegetables. The students in Garden Club were the ones to do all the research and preparation. Once the students completed their research with the help of the group leaders, they began to create plans of how to begin the process of starting the garden. The students were so excited to see their plants grow and couldn't wait to come back the next day to see which ones have grown. This was really sweet because they were so excited to see their plants but we had the opportunity to talk about patience and how it takes a long time for the seeds to grow but during that time we still have to take care of them. So the students made schedules of who was watering and tending to the garden throughout the week.

After a few months students helped design a fence to go around the garden so that we could keep all critters out.  The students were able to build the entire fence with the help of their group leaders. Being able to observe the students grow in confidence and take pride in their work was incredible. SOAR garden club was a huge success and taught students to be confident in their work, the importance of working with others and to practice patience. It's exciting to see what our garden club holds this coming spring.

Why SOAR? Because SOAR is for the student.

Why _____________SOAR? That is a question many people ask themselves for many different reasons. Why should I work at SOAR? Why should I send my child to SOAR? Why should I invest in SOAR?  Why should my organization partner with SOAR? The answer to all of the questions above and more is really very simple, SOAR IS FOR THE STUDENT FIRST. Kids who consistently attend SOAR become better leaders in their classroom, home, and community. This happens for a number of different reasons. The first reason is that SOAR hires really great staff members. SOAR staff members truly care about making every single day at SOAR the best possible day for every student. SOAR staff members are committed to being great listeners, prepared instructors, and positive role models for our students. SOAR offers premiere activity options for our students. Activities at SOAR include Theatre Clubs, Football, Goops and Gadgets, Videography & Photography, Woodworking/Building Club, and MANY MORE! The final reason for student growth within SOAR is that SOAR has developed fantastic partnerships with many organizations & schools in the community. Our partner schools of Parson Hills Elementary, Jones Elementary, and Grace Hill Elementary support our program in making sure that the standards of the school day are in line with the standards of SOAR, they assist us with homework time structure, and support our staff through relationships with their staff members. We are also supported by a number of partnerships in the community. Our community partners assist us with volunteer recruitment, program design, curriculum development. Art Feeds, Trike Theatre, CWE365, Camp War Eagle Summer Camp, Ozark Guidance, and the Benton County Child Advocacy Center are just a few of our wonderful partners that support the goals of SOAR. 

When a student comes to SOAR our hope is that he or she feels accepted, cared for, challenged, and most of all, has a ton of fun. We want to provide each student an opportunity to just be a kid without the pressures of school and without the pressures of whatever life situation they or their family are going through. SOAR is for the student.