By Kevin Gilmore, National Afterschool Association Next Generation 2017 Award Nominee
As a sponsor of the National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award for Afterschool for 2017, we are recognizing the nominees and winners for their dedication to afterschool.
I started in afterschool as a participant in Big Brothers, Big Sisters when I was in middle school. By the time I was in high school, I was a co-lead in a K-5th grade after school program in a local church. I’ve always had a passion for working with young people. My first paid job was providing childcare for children in my neighborhood. Eventually, my passion for working with youth combined with my passion for culinary arts. I began teaching nutrition classes to the children in the program. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to serve as a youth leader for students in 4th-7th grades at a local church. We led the youth in arts, crafts, recreation and devotions.
After college, I felt a call on my life to move from Toledo, OH to Columbus, OH where I worked at the YMCA Summer Program. I began volunteering at Vineyard Columbus in the café – serving as the leader for the youth café volunteers. I gained employment with the café where one of my favorite times of the year was working with the summer program staff and their youth. I was offered a position with the Community Center’s after school and summer programs where I have led children in grades K-12 over the past four and a half years. I was asked to direct the high school program and have served in this position since 2015.
My passion for after school continues to grow. Our young people need positive role models in their lives who will help them develop as young people. I live by the saying, “Be who you needed when you were younger.” After school programs made a tremendously positive difference in my life and now I have the opportunity to give back to our youth. Our youth need a safe outlet to learn, grown, and develop in their identities. I really enjoy working alongside our students’ school teachers to partner together to engage young people where they are – and help them grow into who they are becoming. It is important to me to encourage young people to express themselves and to grow socially and emotionally into well balanced individuals who contribute to their communities.
In Launch High School, we have a daily meeting that our students have called our “family meetings” to talk about how things are going, review our expectations (what students can expect from leaders and what we expect from our students), and provide students an opportunity to talk about things going on in their lives. Our classroom community is becoming stronger as we continue our daily family meetings. We find that our youth enjoy talking about issues in the community and what we can do to take an active part in what is going on around us. As a leader, I try to tie our discussion into follow-up activities that revolve around social emotional learning, expressive art, and literacy activities.
As we move forward this school year, we are focusing on becoming better encouragers of self and of others. There are so many negative experiences around us – we focus on being intentional on finding positivity in our lives. We start with ourselves – caring for ourselves through reflection and listing positive attributes about ourselves first. We then identify needs and work together to see how we can meet needs. We also encourage one another as a community. As students practice public speaking and sharing, we gather around them as a community. We have spent time learning about affirmations and how to positively affirm others. The students enjoyed this activity so much that they decided to dedicate a wall in our classroom to affirmations. Our “affirmation wall” gains new phrases continually. We have also spent time talking about feelings so that our youth have language to talk about how they feel. Journals have been very helpful in these activities. We have many discussions on how we interact with friends, family, and teachers.
As we develop relationships with our students, we are finding how passionate they are about serving the community. Though they put up a fuss about doing homework and other activities from time to time, there are no complaints when we participate in service activities. Our youth lead the activities; my role is to facilitate and help when they have questions. Our high school students serve as “big buddies” for our 3rd-5th grade after school students. We recently assembled 120 backpacks full of supplies for homeless adults in our community. We are currently involved in a book drive to help develop libraries for younger children. Service is an integral part of our program.
I am looking forward to the future in after school. We have youth each week for a few hours each day. I know the importance it makes in the life of a child and the impact after school programs have on families. Students with out of school time support break stereotypes. They graduate. They work. They have families. I am a result of spending a few hours each day with some people who shaped my life. As much as our team gives to our students, we all feel like we gain more in return. If you’re reading this and wondering if there is a place for you to serve in after school, the answer is yes. If you’re thinking about getting involved with youth after school, I cannot say enough how much we need you! Even on the toughest of days, and there are tough days, I cannot wait to get back to work each day. I pray I am impacting my students’ lives as much as they are impacting mine.
To learn more about the National Afterschool Association (NAA) visit naaweb.org. We proudly support their mission and dedication to the afterschool community.
S&S Worldwide is also committed to the career development and support of our afterschool professionals. We have partnered with the NAA to bring quality online courses to the industry. You can find them at our S&S Worldwide Online School.
About the Author:
Kevin Gilmore was born in Toledo, OH. He serves as Director of Launch High School Program at Vineyard Community Center in Westerville, OH. He has spent nearly half of his life working with youth during out of school time. As a trained culinary chef, Kevin enjoys cooking – especially when he can teach young people about nutrition. He enjoys DIY projects and refurbishing furniture. He lives with his wife, Donya, and their black lab, Kenya.