SIDNEY — Kay Rose was frank in her assessment of the after-school program offered to grade-and middle-school students by the Salvation Army at 419 Buckeye St.
“This is the best kept secret that shouldn’t be a secret,” Rose said. “We do a lot of great work here.”
Rose, an employee of the Shelby County Counseling Center, spoke as she watched a knot of grade-schoolers play a very animated game of Twister. Rose is on hand at the Salvation Army’s stadium-sized building every school day, from the final bell at school until 5:30 p.m. watching over the K-6 crowd. Majors David and Sharon Payne, who have been stationed in Sidney for the past four years, supervise the middle schoolers.
“I love it that these kids have somewhere to go after school, because a lot of their parents don’t get off work the same time school lets out,” Rose said.
While the Salvation Army has had after-school activities in Sidney for over a decade, the Majors Payne have tried to expand the programs during their tour. Sidney City Schools have agreed to bus the students who are enrolled in Emerson, Northwood, and Longfellow Elementary schools to North Buckeye Street, while the Salvation Army uses its own bus to pick up the kids from the middle school. Over a dozen middle-schoolers and as many as 26 K-6 students may be on hand on any given school day. But that’s not enough, at least not for Major Sharon or Rose.
“Forty kids,” Rose said when asked what her ideal number of grade-school participants would be. “That’s my dream. Forty kids.”
Sharon Payne is shooting for a much higher number.
“If we had more volunteers,” Sharon Payne said, “we could have up to 100 kids.”
The Salvation Army’s cavernous facility certainly has the room. The building on North Buckeye houses a full-sized basketball court, an auditorium, a full kitchen and dining room, a large chapel, computers and internet access (which is restricted to educational sites), activity rooms, and lounges.
“We offer a place where the kids can be safe and supervised,” Sharon Payne said. “We also make sure there is structure.” Emphasis is placed on homework assignments, and instruction in manners, self-esteem, and life skills are offered. The middle-schoolers recently had a professional chef come in over a period of 10 weeks to teach nutrition and cooking classes, which turned out to be a big hit with not only the students but the parents. Devon Kauffman is the mother of Kaylee Hall, a sixth-grader who attends the after-school program.
“Kaylee was bringing home recipes for us to try,” she said. “I love it that she gets to come here after school.”
Sharon Payne emphasized that the Salvation Army is in fact a religious organization (one must be an ordained minister to hold rank in the Army) and formal worship services — which were inaugurated at the children’s insistence, Sharon Payne said — are held on Wednesdays. Religious instruction is also part of the routine on a daily basis.
“We talk about Jesus here,” Sharon Payne said as the middle-schoolers were parsing John 16:15 in the chapel on the day we visited. Melody Crawford, a volunteer from the Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, was leading the lesson.
“I’m very happy this year,” Sharon Payne said. “The kids on my side are terrific. In our culture this day and age, self-respect, or respect period, is gone, just gone. We try to get the kids to respect themselves and others.”
The after-school program also offers tutoring and can arrange various counseling services for the students if needed. Major David Payne conducts “Bridging the Gap” instruction for at-risk teenagers, and with the Salvation Army’s connection to the United Way, any number of the children’s needs can be met. The grade schoolers get a snack every day and a full meal on Wednesday’s, all of which was donated by local businesses and residents. The grade-schoolers also have a “store” at which they can buy everything from bubble gum to sweet-smelling hand lotion with the faux money they earn by doing jobs that are assigned to them, jobs such as pledge and prayer leaders, meteorologists (who give weather updates), door holders, activity room custodians, and the like.
While the school year is almost over, David Payne said that the Salvation Army will be offering a similar afternoon program during the summer, before returning to its regular after-school activities in the fall. There is no cost for any of the programs.
Parents interested in enrolling their children in the after-school or summer program can stop by the Salvation Army during normal business hours for an application. Parents interested in volunteering are also encouraged to drop in.
“We always need volunteers,” David Payne said. “You can never have enough of them.”