Caring for the kids remains priority #1, but NEST Community Learning Center trying to meet changing needs for less fortunate Loveland school children
By Chuck Gibson
The program remains focused on the original mission: “to address academic and non-academic barriers that perpetuate the cycle of generational poverty in suburban communities”, but COVID-19 made learning challenges for some even more difficult. Founder and Executive Director of NEST, Evangeline (Van) DeVol and the organization recognize these additional stresses have put some kids further behind. The summer program was the springboard launching NEST in 2016 meeting the kids in their own community/neighborhood providing lunch (Nutrition), learning (Education) and play (Safety and Transformation). An excellent argument can be made that meeting those kids in a greenspace in their own community with a focus on feeding, playing and learning in a safe environment created the trust which built the foundation of success for the program. This summer NEST sees the need for a reconnection with familiar faces and connecting with new faces.
“Our at risk kids are further behind now than they ever, ever have been before,” said DeVol. “They didn’t do well online. Some did, some didn’t, the majority did not.”
DeVol explained the typical situation might find kids about 18 months behind, but with COVID, kids are now three years behind as an average. She attributes the loss to their home environment, not as a criticism of parents, but rather the circumstances leading to challenging living and learning conditions. The pandemic created circumstances which combined for less cognitive development in at risk children. NEST must now shift their focus to more of the teaching/learning aspect of the Summer Lunch, Learn & Play program.
“We knew we could not let another summer go by,” DeVol said. “We have put together, with our board, with our team, a lot of contingency plans. We did not know what the school would do. We knew we had to get back out there. We want it to be a very meaningful program.”
DeVol says they’re looking at it as starting all over again.
“We’re not going to make any assumptions,” she said. “It’s like the very first summer 2016.”
There is good reason to take the approach of starting over with new ownership/management of the housing communities like MacArthur Park and Westover Apartments where they serve in Loveland. As a result, new personnel are in place managing and maintaining the housing. That means establishing new relationships, learning new guidelines for serving the children and families residing in those communities. DeVol says things have changed at both communities in Loveland. There are more new families in need. Even the park where NEST has always had the summer program has been sold by the City of Loveland for development.
“The kids don’t have that green space anymore,” said DeVol.
They have not broken ground yet which allows NEST to use it for now. She points out there have been a lot of changes. Familiar faces have been evicted, new families have moved in and it has all impacted the kids. It has been an 18-month long traumatic experience for the kids. The NEST team knows they have to be out there with the Summer Lunch, Learn & Play program – even if it does look a little different this year.
“We know we can’t not do this,” DeVol said. “If nothing else, socially we have to get out there. We have to build our relationships with all these new families. Now we’re doing some academic programs with them. We’re doing a ton of reading.”
Literacy will be their buzz word for the summer. Everything builds off literacy. At the same time, they’re going out to the kids feeding them just as they always have before, but doing it without knowing exactly what the program will look like this summer.
“We’re going to be there for eight weeks,” DeVol said. “I don’t blame anyone who would just rather get in a car and disappear for the summer, but these kids cannot afford it (to lose the learning time). If we can get them better positioned to start school than when they left school, then there’s our value right there.”
DeVol emphasized the need to meet the kids right where they are now more than ever. She says NEST is facing the challenge of finding enough volunteers to meet their program needs. It is not unlike businesses seeking employees to fill vacancies in the aftermath of the pandemic closures and reopening.
“We’re in touch with a lot of the churches here in Loveland and they’re going to help us,” said DeVol. “We still have some holes though.”
NEST NEEDS YOU! The call is out for volunteers. If you can help, or your group can help, please go online at: www.nestclc.org to learn how you can volunteer. Even if you can’t volunteer your time during the Summer Lunch, Learn & Play program, other volunteer opportunities exist. Your donations make a difference too. NEST stayed as connected as possible throughout the pandemic. The mission continues and it makes a difference for the kids who are most at risk in our community.
“We have tutors working, they’re available online to work one-on-one with the kids as long as the teachers tell us which puzzle piece they’re missing,” DeVol said. “The kids that stuck with us online did amazingly. We met that child exactly where they were and were able to work on whatever puzzle piece they needed most.”
CLICK HERE to visit NEST CLC online and learn more.