Good Habits Are Getting Trained

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Kerr Street Ministries scores again with Club 31 , By Lucia Lecuna

Walking into the Kerr St. Ministries building, which is close to the intersection at Speers Rd makes you wonder, how can they do it? And why didn´t I know about this before? The busy groups of children come and go to join guided activities in a calm and organized environment.
You can sneak into a sports and recreational room to the left, and also into a kitchen that is prepared to provide a healthy dinner for those who seek help in their facilities.

Gary O’Neil is a young business man who became attracted to this charity when he was at the top of his career. He truly believes in the success of this social enterprise, where Kerr St. Ministries is helping families from Oakville deal with their financial problems. For without the help they receive here at KSM they would find poverty at their door.

Working with children isn’t an easy task, but at Kerr Street Ministries they know how to maximize the time they spend with these children. They recognize that it is important to gain trust and respect from both the kids and their families.

The challenges they face: handling all ages, with a wide variety of situations, and helping families have a more productive life. KSM helps the children and the teens, knowing what they have to live with every day.

It’s a long path being walked by the staff and volunteers at KSM, to keep motivated, to understand, to be flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of the families and kids is a challenge they handle each day. When Gary offered me a tour of the facilities I saw the light, it was a genuine shine radiating from him. The fluency of his speech, the passion in his words, and the light in his eyes showed me what KSM is capable of accomplishing.

I have a little knowledge of some of the charities here in Canada, and I have to say that it seems Canadians have all covered. But for me, with my personal backgroud groing close to some Latin American Charities (Fe y Alegria, OSCASI, Damas Salesianas, Fundacion Corazon de Maria),this one is truly is amazing, has grown full with creativity, local compromise and great reputation. The exciting piece is that it is located in the heart of Oakville, available for local families who need help.

Club 31:
That’s 31 minutes with 31 kids doing homework!
Starting last January, KSM included a guided teaching experience designed to help children who need assistance with their homework. Some just needed a little extra practice to improve their learning experience, while others were seeking to “Grade Up” with a serious incentive to study.

Below is a Q & A with Gary O´Neil, Excecutive Director of Kerr Street Ministries

LL: How did you come up with the idea to create Club 31?
We have worked with the schools that are close to Kerr Street Ministries, and found out that the kids needed support for their homework and that the grades were coming down. Most of the kids were already part of our after school programs and we decided to be focused on their academic performance. It was a real problem that their families weren’t able to pay for extra lessons to help them with this. Kids just don´t feel that learning and good grades is something important because they see it in the distance, not important for today.

We formed an alliance with the Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation (MPCF), Oakville Toyota-SCION and Lexus of Oakville, and together we designed a $1.000 RESP award to students that showed improvement with their academic grades, discipline and ability to manage their study time.

LL: How can you get them to sit and do the work?
First we only ask them to stay for this task for a short period of their time. We also offer them the possibility of the $1.000 from Toyota-Lincoln fund. The teacher is very motivating so we invite them to think beyond their homework and bring their learning experience into a real life situation. Chemistry, Physics and Math become more real when the children understand how they can be involved in their world.

LL: Can any child from Oakville join your Club 31?
Yes. For the moment it is designed for 31 children, and we have two groups, one for children that are still in Elementary School and the other is for teenagers from High school. The first group comes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the other group comes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They have to apply and demonstrate that their family has a low income. Any child, in either category from any Oakville School is welcomed.
We asked them: “Why don’t you do your homework here instead of doing it at home when you get back from the after School Program?” It just made sense for them, and voluntarily they joined in the groups.

LL: Do the children have the possibility to choose if they want to work on their homework for 31 minutes, or it is a compromise?
They are always allowed to choose and obviously they rather be playing basketball than doing their homework. But at a certain point they get it, especially if the find out that the gym or the park is empty because the other kids are in Club 31 room. Some bring friends and are starting to get into the habit. They know that afterwards they will get a snack and free time in the gym to play whatever they want until 6 pm.
I always quote the old saying, “You can lead the horse to the water but you cannot make them to drink”, so they have to figure that this temporary sacrifice will be a long term achievement.

LL: Is Club 31 seeking volunteers as teachers?
We are open to anyone who will want to contribute with Club 31. Right know our volunteers are retired or non-working professionals with a teaching background. But we still need more support that can come from anyone with teaching experience. They must be willing to help by sharing their own experience. Sometimes kids have essays to write, so it’s not only math or sciences that they need help with.

LL: Have you identified a specific population that needs Club 31?
We have identified that some clients are immigrants in the process adapting to the Canadian lifestyle. Some have been here for a long time, but have a very low income, and are often without a job. Club 31 also has Canadian kids whose families cannot finance the academic extra support needed and they come to us.

For more information, please visit: http://www.keerstree.net or call: T 905. 845.7485

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