|Dim Siam Neem, 6, a refugee from Burma, pets a tortoise during a visit from the Nashville Zoo to the Catholic Pastoral Center, where about 40 refugee children gather for programming every afternoon of summer break. Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services office runs the program, which offers transportation and free programming for refugee youth. Photos by Theresa Laurence|
Summer break, beloved by school children nationwide, but greeted more cautiously by many working parents, can be a logistical and financial strain for busy families. Often, parents have to stitch together a patchwork of summer camps and make an onerous plan to transport their children to varied, sometimes unfamiliar, locations every week.
Some local Catholic parishes and institutions have stepped in to offer low- and no-cost summer care and enrichment for students on summer break, tailored to the schedules and budgets of working families.
For the last five years, St. Pius X Classical Academy has hosted a “Summer Fun” program to help fill the need for parish, school and community families. “We started this as an opportunity for our families who needed care during the summer, and it’s open to the community as well,” said St. Pius X Principal Lori Patton.
While there are summer camps galore in the Nashville area, few offer the same the level of full-time care at such an affordable rate as St. Pius. For a full day of programming, including before and after care if needed, St. Pius charges only $125 per child, per week, with pay-ahead and multi-sibling discounts available. It’s not uncommon for local schools and cultural institutions charge double that rate, or more, for summer childcare.
Like St. Pius X Classical Academy, the Summer Fun program is small; only about a dozen children are enrolled this year. Patton would like a few more to sign up, but said the intimacy of the program is part of the appeal. “The kids forge friendships. They’re like a family,” she said.
St. Pius parent and St. Lawrence parishioner Troy Duronslet, whose two daughters, ages 6 and 8, are enrolled in the summer program, said he appreciates the “continuity of care” offered by St. Pius throughout the summer. He has peace of mind that his daughters are in a familiar environment, where they already know the staff and many of the other children in the program. “Once they’re here, they’re never ready to leave,” he said, while dropping off his daughters at St. Pius after a morning swim meet.
|St. Pius Summer Fun counselor Beth Bender, above, oversees craft time with Michael Thole, left, Bentley Murphy, Blaise Farmer, and Kennedy McCartherenes. St. Pius X Classical Academy offers full-time summer programming at a reasonable rate to parish, school and community members.|
Duronslet and his wife both work, and while he has a flexible schedule as a driver for UPS, he said he appreciates that the St. Pius program is always there when he needs it. “It offers a relaxingly structured program,” he said, which means his children “don’t have stagnant time in the summer watching a lot of TV” but they’re also not too regimented. “They get to remain social butterflies.”
“What makes us unique is a blend of academics and summer fun,” Patton said. Every morning, children have math, reading and writing enrichment time, then in the afternoon, they have more creative, active time. “We have a lot of programs that come to us,” Patton said, like visits from puppet trucks, zoo animals, and musical guests. They also have time every week for arts and crafts and water play.
Keeping refugee youth engaged
Meanwhile, at the Catholic Pastoral Center, dozens of children from around the world who are part of Catholic Charities’ Refugee Youth Program, gather every afternoon for summer enrichment and fun. “It gives kids an opportunity to get out of their apartment and interact with other kids,” said Cagney Sinson, Refugee and Immigration Services’ afterschool coordinator.
The refugee youth summer program is an extension of the school year program, which provides the children with academic support and a safe place to be during after school hours. In the summer, refugee caseworkers pick the children up at their apartment complexes every afternoon and drive them to the Catholic Pastoral Center, where they participate in various activities, art projects, play time and field trips. The summer program, while not full time, does offer some structure to their days and an important opportunity for the children “to socialize and keep what they’ve learned fresh,” Stinson said.
The children range in age from 5-11 and come from a variety of cultures and countries, including Somalia, Bhutan and Afghanistan. Some of the children already know each other; some meet for the first time in the summer. Some were born in the U.S. and others arrived with their families less than a year ago, Stinson said. “It’s interesting to see the kids reach out to each other. They may not have a shared language, but they have a shared story,” she said.
|For one week every summer, St. Vincent de Paul Parish offers a free evening Vacation Bible School open to parish families and community members. The program includes a nightly homemade meal, served by parish volunteers. Rubye Patterson, left, a long-time parish volunteer, serves dinner to Vacation Bible School participants.|
The refugee summer program serves about 40 children at the Catholic Pastoral Center, and about 15 at another site. It is a grant-funded program and free for families. It offers an outlet for refugee families who have one or more parents working long hours, and who may be left in the care of older siblings, often without transportation. “We want to provide kids without other options with a place to go,” Stinson said, as well as giving primary caregivers a break.
VBS tailored for working families
Vacation Bible School, another summer staple at Catholic and Protestant churches all around Nashville, is a great opportunity for children to engage in their faith over the break. But the camps are often held in the mornings, which can be inconvenient for working parents who have to provide transportation for their children to and from the church, and still put in a full work day.
For nearly 10 years, St. Vincent de Paul Parish has held their Vacation Bible School in the evenings, designed to sync up with more parents’ work schedules. “It’s all about the kids and their families,” said Jill Collier, St. Vincent Vacation Bible School coordinator and teacher.
St. Vincent’s program is free and open to parish families and community members. It also offers another important perk: homemade dinner every night for all participants, prepared by parish volunteers.
This year, the students in St. Vincent’s VBS program focused on the Divine Mercy, and learned about a different saint each day from parish leaders like their pastor, deacon, volunteers, and a visiting Dominican sister.
“We had so many volunteers this year, it was wonderful,” said Collier.
Whether small or large, short term, part-time or all summer long, Catholic parishes and programs are working to help kids avoid the “summer slide” and ensure parents that their children are taken care of in a safe environment.
“We’d love for our program to grow, but we see the value in what we do for these families each summer,” Patton said.
Spots are still available in St. Pius X Classical Academy’s Summer Fun program. More information is available at: https://stpiusnashville-org.sites.ecatholic.com/summer-programs-1.