I couldn’t help but be charmed by Zéhlon the day he and I sat together on the couch at YouthBASE in Greenville’s Southernside Neighborhood. This energetic eight-year old was wearing Darth Vader high tops and had an unforgettable smile. He enthusiastically shared stories about his big brother, Zychius; his love of sports and LeBron James: and all of the friends he has made at YouthBASE, especially his best buddy Javier. I don’t believe Zéhlon has ever met a stranger – his winning personality paired with success in school will surely take him far in life.
When Zéhlon began K-5 at A.J. Whittenberg three years ago his teacher recognized immediately that reading and math were difficult for him. She recommended to his mom, DeUndra Perkins, that she enroll him in YouthBASE’s afterschool program. DeUndra spoke to Linda Tassie, the organization’s executive director. “Learning that Zéhlon needed extra help was both hurtful and helpful. At first it was real hard to accept, but after talking to Ms. Tassie I knew YouthBASE is exactly what my son needed,” shared DeUndra.
YouthBASE is a free afterschool and summer early intervention program that provides individualized behavioral and academic support for children in K5 through 2nd grade. 100% of the kids in the program qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program and 85% of them are from single-parent homes. All of the kids are there to address their Behavioral, Academic, Social and Emotional needs – notice the word BASE in the organization’s name.
Founded ten years ago, the organization’s philosophy is holistic. Leadership understands that to be successful they must connect a child’s home, school and after-school worlds. There are three-prongs to accomplishing these goals. 1) Each child has an individualized behavior and academic plan that is adapted as he or she progresses. 2) The YouthBASE staff establishes effective collaborations between families, schools, teachers and after-school staff. 3) Children are provided with a wealth of opportunities to establish strong, safe relationships and connect with the community.
I witnessed first-hand the love and support the children receive on a daily basis at YouthBASE. During my recent visit I met a crew of Furman students, South Carolina Children’s Theatre volunteers and the organization’s professional staff. Everyone was joyous as they paraded single-file from the downstairs classroom to a play area upstairs where they dressed in costumes and participated in an acting class.
YouthBASE has well-established collaborations with the Greenville County Museum of Art, the South Carolina Children’s Theatre, the Greenville County Library, the Greenville County 4-H and GOAT (Great Outdoor Adventure Trips). These organizations provide wonderful Beyond the Wall field trip experiences to offer hands-on knowledge and understanding of people, places and things beyond the child’s immediate neighborhood. One of Zéhlon’s favorite outings was to the climbing wall at GOAT. “I loved the colorful rocks and getting fresh air on my face,” he laughed.
Another essential ingredient for a child’s success is the engagement of the child’s parents through Parent Cafes and Family Nights. Cafe de Madres is a parent program offered in Spanish, while Family Nights are designed for families to learn, grow and enjoy time together. These evenings include dinner and an educational game or activity. DeUndra enjoys participating in Family Night. She brings Zéhlon and Zychius; and sometimes her mom and niece join them. “We do all sorts of fun activities. I remember at Christmas we went to Christ Church and made ornaments for our tree,” she shared.
I asked Zéhlon to talk about YouthBASE. He reflected, “On my first day I was a little nervous because I didn’t know anyone. But soon I made lots of friends – Javier, Isaiah, Lucas and Paris. YouthBASE picks us up at school and when we get here we have a snack. I really like the Chex Mix with strawberries. Then we do our homework since I need some help. We do group reading and math group activities too. My favorite book is “May I Please Have a Cookie” and I know all the words. Then we get to go outside and play football and basketball!”
“Finding YouthBASE has truly been a blessing for Zéhlon. He now loves math and enjoys reading,” concluded DeUndra.
Linda Tassie added, “He has progressed with academics and his social emotional growth is amazing. He is very good at vocalizing his emotions and handles them in a positive way. Zéhlon is incredibly helpful and compassionate towards other children and adults. And he is always the first one to volunteer to help clean up or tie a shoe or take out the trash.” Zéhlon has thrived at YouthBASE. Linda is confident that he will stay on a path to success as he transitions to A.J. Whittenberg’s Innovate Afterschool Program this year.
For more information about YouthBASE visit www.youth-base.org or call 864-520-1301.