Taking Care of the Whole Child
Since the Yes Network opened its doors to the St. Cloud community a few years ago, its programming has evolved from a strict focus on food to a much broader focus on food as it relates to children and families’ health and wellness. Ruth Weichman, cofounder and director of programming for the organization, said children’s health and wellness has become the essence of the Yes Network’s mission. And it goes well beyond providing meals to kids.
“Meals provide an avenue to bring people together, but it is the enrichment activities, games, music and art that support other physical and emotional needs,” she said. “These activities, linked together, encourage good nutrition, learning, physical health, social and emotional well-being, and help build a stronger community.”
In 2018, the Yes Network served meals at 14 schools, four non-profits including the library, and 19 apartment complexes and mobile home parks. Outdoor games and activities were organized in 14 neighborhoods; art and music were provided at 10 sites. Weichman estimates that more than 800 kids participated.
This fall, the Yes Network will continue offering on-site after-school programs at two locations, both apartment building community rooms. The organization hired three certified teachers who will provide art and music instruction. In addition, the Yes Network will be working with another non-profit in its network to provide an after-school program, including food, at a third apartment complex.
Weichman said they hope to continue offering this type of robust programming well into the fall and winter and at more locations, but cooler temperatures and lack of indoor space make it difficult.
“Fall is a challenging time because it gets rainy and cold and, if the food and activities schedule is not consistent, participation is not as strong as the summer,” she said. “Children simply don’t know when we are there. A critical factor is being able to find indoor space. Currently, three apartment complexes have community rooms that are available—so we can eat and play outside when it is nice and serve meals inside on colder days.”
After-school programs benefit caregivers and kids
The feedback from families who participate in the after-school programs has been overwhelming positive and shows the true value of such programming to families, especially working single-parents.
The testimonials from parents include a mom who told Weichman her first-grade daughter was being bullied at school and had no friends. Her daughter now enjoys the positive atmosphere of the afterschool program and is developing friendships with other kids in the program.
A grandmother who was exhausted from caring for her four young grandchildren while their mother is receiving extended medical care said the afterschool program helps relieve her stress by ensuring the children complete their homework and have an opportunity to play with other kids in a safe environment.
A single-mom with a stressful job said the program allows her a little extra time at the end of the day to decompress. As a result, she is more patient and attentive with her children.
Weichman said stories like these are not unique, with over 60 percent of the families the Yes Network serves identifying as single-parent households.
While Weichman is happy with the success of the summer and after-school programs, her biggest wish is to feed hungry parents alongside their children.
“There are parents at every site who hoover around the serving line, waiting for all the children to be served to see if there is any extra food for them,” she said. “There are also hungry elderly people in the apartments. It is hard to see the struggles of food insecurity without any resources to respond to them.”
Second Harvest Heartland works with nearly 1,000 partner food shelves, pantries and other meal programs every day to reach the one in 11 Minnesotans who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Learn more about our partnerships and how you can help.