Weekly Columns

Investing in our Youth

Lincoln Echo

May 31 2013

This column was printed in the Lincoln Echo, a monthly publication in Fort Smith. 

When I was a student there were a few days on the calendar that I looked forward to, the most important of which was the last day of school. Summer vacation equaled freedom for me, as it did every other student, and we always looked forward to leaving the classroom behind for a few months. 

Fortunately, Fort Smith provides many great opportunities for kids to stay busy during the summer, and we are rising to the challenge of providing safe, affordable activities and keeping kids well-nourished when they’re out of school. 

Arkansas was one of seven states that had significantly higher household food insecurity rates between 2009 and 2011 with 19.2 percent. The Arkansas Foodbank estimates are alarming; 35 percent of the people needing food assistance are children. Hunger has no boundaries. This is a very real problem for children across our state including right here in Fort Smith. During the school year, kids have an opportunity for a regular, nutritious, healthy breakfast and lunch. Once students leave for the summer, the chances increase that they go to bed hungry.

The majority of Fort Smith’s public schools have a student population of 60 percent or greater who qualify for free or reduced lunches and the district is working to continue to provide well balanced meals throughout the year, including the summer. The district offered breakfast and lunch at area elementary schools last summer through funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer meal programs. Nearly 54,000 meals were served to students over 44 days. 

I’m proud to see the community involvement throughout the region that is working to address child hunger and malnourishment. Faith-based organizations, the Community Services Clearinghouse and the River Valley Regional Food Bank are leaders on this front and working to provide nutritious meals throughout the year. 

This is important to the long term development of children. Not only is healthy eating important for students to do their best in the classroom, but it also fuels them for the activities they participate in during the summer. 

We are blessed in our community to have a variety of programs that help foster lifelong development and encourage success and hard work. I remember spending my summers playing church league baseball. I know many area kids have grown up knowing the excitement of the baseball diamond and making memories and learning lessons on the field that last a lifetime. The importance and success is proven by the continued growth of the program. I am impressed by the baseball fields and the facilities teams use today. 

Girls, Inc., the Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, First Tee, church youth programs and sports camps all provide opportunities for our kids and help them develop an interest or skill they can nurture throughout their life. The best thing about these programs is that you can find them in our backyard. 

I spent one summer teaching kids to swim at a Darby day camp with Coach Buck Wells. Teaching kids how to swim was a rewarding experience and it was something they could do close to home. 

We have a number of great programs that are led by talented staffs who help shape our future generations. They teach life lessons and skills and leave memories of summer forever etched in our heads. You still remember your favorite summer and the friends and experiences that made it your favorite. 

Summer just kicked off but I know it won’t be long before parents are anxious to send their kids back to school. Fortunately nurturing young minds and providing them with fun summer activities is something easy to find in Fort Smith.