Article by Katie Wadington, Citizen-Times’ news director;
Any parent can appreciate an event or outing that fulfills a couple of needs at once. Two birds, one stone.
A worthwhile example: Homework Diner.
It’s a program of United Way of Asheville-Buncombe County, offered this school year in three middle schools (Enka, Erwin and Asheville). It’s part of the agency’s Middle School Success initiative to offer encouragement and support to adolescents.
But it’s really more than that.
As Homework Diner staffers explained to me as I prepped for a volunteer shift last week, the program gives families a chance to have a positive experience at school. Parents with students of any age can bring their children to a Diner for a warm, free (and delicious) meal with a side dish of homework help. It’s a friendlier environment for families who may encounter teachers or administrators only to discuss discipline issues, or for those who are intimidated by visiting school.
Plus, it brings together community partners: held in public schools, with Green Opportunities – an organization provides job training to low-income area residents – supplying dinner with other resource agencies offering information to families.
United Way CEO David Bailey invited me to witness the program back in February. He filled me in on the initiative as we served dinner to a few dozen families. That first visit to Enka Middle had the feel of a program starting to gain traction.
Fast forward about 10 weeks to last Tuesday, when I manned the drink station. The venue was the same, but the environment was markedly different. The school’s jazz band supplied lively entertainment as dinner started. The cafeteria was packed with families, moms and dads looking relaxed as they ate with their kids. After dinner, students flipped open laptops and books, asking for help from volunteer tutors. Kids played games and parents visited booths set up by the YMCA of WNC, Habitat for Humanity and Asheville Museum of Science.
In between my visits, the Homework Diner got a boost from Gov. Roy Cooper, who stopped in last month during National Volunteer Week.
The program has wrapped up for this school year, but the plan is to resume in the fall. United Way is hoping to expand to the Owen District, if funding works out.
According to United Way, 39 Homework Diners were held this year and more than 301 households attended (this includes all but the last week of Diners). Attendees came from 33 different schools, bringing in kids at all levels of K-12. So it’s helping middle school students and well beyond. And it’s time well-spent, giving families a chance to connect with community and offering kids some extra homework help.
When the program starts up next school year, stop in for free dinner and tutoring. Or consider giving a few hours of your time to help at Homework Diner. I'll be back, for sure, because it's easy to get behind a program that makes parents' lives a bit easier and helps children learn at the same time.
Katie Wadington is the Citizen-Times’ news director; email her at email@example.com.