By Laura Jean Whitcomb
The house is quiet — until 3 p.m. Then the kids arrive from Hartford, Bradford, Lebanon, Enfield, Canaan and Claremont. Soon Bev’s House is bustling with activity and the After School Program at the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Vt., is in full swing.
Every day, about 30 kids, between the ages of 5 and 13, benefit from the homework help and healthy snacks at Bev’s House. The program started in 1991 as a homework club for kids living in the shelter. By 2009, the program had grown to include current and former shelter guests. “We encourage them to continue,” says Laura Gillespie, director of development & communications. “The kids have all experienced trauma; they’ve all been homeless at some point. When they lived at the Haven, they felt like it was a safe place. With the After School Program, we can still offer that to them a couple hours a day.”
Kids say hello to Erin Wetherell, children’s services coordinator, as they help themselves to a healthy snack — yogurt, fruit, vegetables and dip. Then there’s a variety of things they can do: get help with homework, play a game inside, play a game outside, or participate in a craft, Community volunteers or volunteers from the Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College are on hand to help kids with their needs, share an interest, or teach a skill. Wednesdays might have a mindfulness session, and Fridays might offer a healthy eating program where the kids create something, much like the television program “Chopped.” Every activity is crafted to increase confidence, reduce stress, and provide a chance for creative exploration — but all the kids see is simple, happy fun.
When it’s time to go home, Wetherell or one of her three staff members might use one of the Haven’s vans to provide transportation. “There are always kids who want to be brought home last,” she says. “It speaks to our program. We try to meet their needs as much as we can.”
But the program is more than just after school assistance Monday through Friday; it’s a thoughtfulness that continues 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The Haven After School Program collects school supplies and winter clothing for kids who need it, attends parent/teacher meetings to advocate for kids with individualized education programs, and celebrates birthdays with a card and a treat.
“It’s about relationship building. You have to be authentic with kids,” says Wetherell, who joined the program in 2015. “One supportive adult outside of household can make a difference in their lives.”