CONWAY — Project SUCCEED started 2020 with a donation of $1700 from Sherman Farm, which every October since 2015, has brought families to its maize at the farm for Lights On After-school, a nationwide event celebrating after-school programs and the important role in the lives of children, families and communities.
“It was a happy surprise to see that in our mailbox!” exclaimed Jessica DellaValla, director of Project SUCCEED. “I am only a few weeks into the job but a high point has definitely been hearing from so many people about how our program has touched their lives. And it is not just children and families. So many business people and community leaders have stopped me to tell me how important our services are for keeping businesses in the valley running.
“When a parent has to leave at 2:30 or 3 p.m., the work day is severely interrupted. We can’t keep our doors open for those critical after-school hours without folks like our friends at Sherman Farm.”
In addition to providing a safe place for students while parents are working, Project SUCCEED provides enrichment programming that includes homework help, hands-on science and arts projects, field trips, sports, social-emotional support and meals. Topics and programming changes regularly.
This month at Pine Tree School in Center Conway the students and parent volunteers are working on SeaPerch, a robotics program in which students learn how to build and operate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle.
The project is a highlight for Heidi Belle-Isle, site director at Pine Tree. She has been amazed at how students and parent volunteers have been putting in extra time to finish soldering their control boxes. “These kids have not given up. Perseverance at its best,” she said.
Belle-Isle has worked at Project Succeed for 16 years, with 13 as a site director. Her favorite thing?
“I love the relationships that develop between the staff, students, and families that participate in the morning and after-school programs. It brings a smile to my face watching our older participants help foster appropriate social skills to our kindergarteners and first graders.”
She is joined by site directors Jayson Andrews at Conway Elementary School and Sheri Whitaker at John H. Fuller School, who, along with over 50 additional part-time staff and volunteers, serve almost 550 students per year before and after school. They lead everything from mountain biking to storytelling to underwater robotics. Each session offers many options so that children can try new things and connect with academic and life skills in new ways.
A majority of Project SUCCEED’s funding is provided by Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants. The state distributes the funds to nonprofit organizations and school districts that run the programs. Some programs, like Project SUCCEED, also receive additional support from foundations, private donors, cities or their local school district. Right now, fees are charged on a sliding scale, which ranges from free to $3.50 to $7 per day.
Project SUCCEED programs are free to parents of low-income students.
When asked if she is still worried about the loss of income from not being able to accept those fees after July 1, DellaValla responded, “Yes. We are still trying to figure that out. We are waiting on some guidance from the state.”
For now, she adds, “Honestly, I am just happy to hear how many people know about Project SUCCEED. We’re so grateful to Sherman Farm not only for the money they shared with us but also because of the awareness they raise. They are a true partner.”