It’s just an unassuming building on a typical Germantown street, but the Happy Hollow Recreation Center is put to good use on many fronts, lending space to a wide range of organizations, including Narcotics Anonymous, boxing training and a soup kitchen. Every weekday afternoon, however, the center becomes a safe-haven-hang-out slash homework-help-line for any neighborhood kid who wants to stop by. The after-school program at the center, located on Wayne Avenue, is reaching out to kids in the surrounding community and making an impact.
About 15 kids come on a regular basis and many more stop by sporadically. The center has had after-school programs in the past, but this year’s program has been much more successful, thanks in large part to the consistency of the program’s director, Shawne Anderson. The kids keep coming because they know Miss Shawne will be there.
Anderson first got involved with the center last fall when she came by to use the computers for her resume. While at the center, she volunteered to teach a computer basics class for area kids. The center’s director, Sallie Tanksley, jumped at the opportunity for an after-school program.
Anderson has a natural way with the kids that come in and they respond to her well. “One thing I learned about children is that they love direction, they love structure,” she explains. And she provides that with a rotating schedule of activities, homework holding the number one spot on the list of priories.
Those computers come in handy. “Sometimes they have homework where they need to do research on the internet. And they are very up to speed on that,” says Anderson.
The computers, along with the refrigerator and many of the other supplies, are all donations. The operational funding for the center as a whole comes from the city. “The total recreation budget for the city has decreased each year,” says Tanksley.
In the past, the after-school program would cost each child a dollar a day. “With the economy going in the tank, we decided not to charge anything this year,” Tanksley explains. But even as funding becomes more and more scarce, the center still continues to be there.
The kids notice the benefits of the homework help when they go back to their classrooms the next day. “It helps me do better in school. When we go over the questions, I can tell my teacher how I got the answers. It’s easier for me because Miss Shawne helped me,” says Tykwona Moss, a third-grader who comes to the program daily.
But it’s not all hard work and no play. “We do arts and crafts in a separate room. Some days Miss Sallie will give us a pizza party,” Anderson explains. There was even a birthday party for Martin Luther King Jr. recently. It seems there’s always something going on to keep the kids engaged.
And keeping kids engaged keeps them out of trouble. “There’s a lot of down time for the kids with nothing to do. This program helps with that,” says Allison Weiss, a neighbor whose backyard is adjacent to the field beside the center.
For Anderson, all of this has a higher purpose. “Learning consists of more than just the basic reading, math and spelling. A lot of it has to do with your attitude, how you carry yourself. The things that are instilled in them when they’re young are going to have a lot to do with their development and which way they’ll go when they get older,” she says.
Participating in the program helps kids learn to “resolve conflicts through peaceful resolution, make friends easier and express themselves easier,” says Tanksley. “It sounds like a lot, but we touch on all of this in the program.”
In working with the kids, Anderson sees the importance of mom and dad’s involvement. “Most of the children that come consistently, their parents are involved with them,” Anderson says. One such parent is David Ross, a barber in the area whose son Semaj is a first-grader who attends the after school program daily.
“It definitely keeps his curriculum together when they go over the homework,” Ross says. Semaj, who is quite proud of the fact that his name spelled backwards is ‘James,’ agrees. “Miss Shawne is the best,” he says.
“They understand her authority but they see a friend in her too. She’s consistent and that’s the thing that’s needed,” Ross adds.
As the school year comes to a close, the program does as well, but the center won’t leave the kids without a place to go. “Most of these children will transition into the summer camp (here),” Anderson says.
Providing the best possible future for these kids is never far from anyone’s mind at Happy Hollow. Semaj himself is looking forward with anticipation. “I want to be a barber like my dad. Oh yeah, and a basketball player too!” he says with a grin.