A van of screaming children pulls up to the curb. The children are anxious to get out and stroll through the red wooden doors of the National Temple Baptist Church, head down the hall and into the church’s sanctuary where they are greeted by a ceiling of big bright balloons of all colors, bookshelves that hold stacks and stacks of books for all ages.
The children had entered the Cynthia Allen Success Academy, a program at 1628 W. Master St. that grew out of the need of working parentsfor after school child care.
“Parents were begging me to start this Academy,” Cynthia Allen said. “In the beginning I had to turn people away because we were at capacity.”
Allen, the founder and CEO of this program, said she considers this operation as a family commitment to the neighborhood. The Academy has over 42 children who attend plus a wait list of families trying to get their child into the program.
Allen’s two sons, Drew and Willis Jr., teach at the Academy along with her mother, Anna Brown. Allen’s daughter Sherita is secretary and Financial Manager.
“My husband is involved and my aunts come down and help out when they can,” Allen said. Her brother is a Special Education teacher and is Director of the Academy’s summer camp program. “We have over sixty years of teaching history in my family,” Allen said proudly.
Anna Brown, 79, has been a teacher for over 30 years. Discipline and love are core components of the program Brown said. Starting out as a fifth grade teacher at St. Malachy, Brown is now helping to teach her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Academy provides a support system for families in the North Central area. The Success Academy acts as a liaison between the schools, families, and community. The after school program helps children with any academic issue they encounter, ranging from math homework to speech therapy.
Most of the children are from area schools including St. Malachy, Bache-Martin, Shiloh Christian Academy and Spring Garden School. The program runs five nights a week from 2:30 – 6:00 p.m., September to June. From June through August, they run a summer camp program for eight weeks.
“Sixty to eighty percent of the kids who attend are subsidized through child care services,” Allen said. “They get a hot meal with us every day before they go home.”
This program is about more than just homework and tutorial help. “We are beginning a banking and credit project for girls 9 – 12, to help with financial literacy” Allen said, adding she is also organizing a karate club for the boys in the program.
But a top priority with the academy is school work, improving school work. Anna Brown applies the discipline necessary for the children to succeed socially and academically.
“This after school program has improved my daughter’s grades in school and I don’t know what I’d do without it,” Brad Waples said. This single father drives in from Reading, Pa three times a week to pick up his daughter at the Academy. “She has grown as a student as well as socially.”
During the summer camp season, the Academy makes sure that the children get outside to get some fresh air and exercise in addition to keeping up with reading, writing and arithmetic when school is out. And summer camp participants go on field trips as well.
“We take the children swimming every day or skating or to one of the museums in the area, like the Art Museum or the Please Touch Museum,” CEO Allen said.
Allen will also pick up and drop off any children of families who do not have transportation to and from the Academy.
El’ Veta Oakman has three children in the program and a two-year old in daycare. Oakman says the program puts her at ease because she knows her child is safe. “I’m a military wife, so having Cynthia is like having a second mother… The summer program keeps their mind fresh, so they can be ready for the next school year.”
Willis Allen Jr., Cynthia’s oldest son, runs a program at the Academy for groups of young men ages 6 -16. “We teach them to be gentlemen, to be respectful, to shave and pull out chairs for women.” The program run by Willis Allen, Perfect Gentlemen, gives young boys a chance to have a male role model. He estimates that ninety percent of the young men in the program do not have fathers in their homes.
The Academy is looking to add computers, a science lab and most importantly find a science teacher who would be willing to help the children a few days a week.
Anna Brown thinks the children have a bright future ahead of them. “In ten years, I would like to see the children graduate from high school go on to college and become doctors, lawyers and maybe even the next president”, Brown said. “That would make this all worth it”.