Written by Peter G. Sánchez
First published August 30, 2018
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (June 14, 2021)--The six weeks were coming to an end, but not without some Irish music.In the center of Gloucester Catholic High School’s library last week, Mark Jergensen strummed the banjo as Leniyah-Marie Osler practiced her skills on the tin whistle. In a corner, Aidan Grossman and Nevaeh Parrish were taught the bodhran by visitor Tom Brett.
“It’s been fun,” the 10-year-old Leniyah-Marie said as she put down her tin whistle. “I wish it wouldn’t end,” she added. For over a month, she, Mark, Aidan, Nevaeh and their classmates have spent four days a week learning, having fun and eating healthy with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) summer program of Saint Mary Parish in Gloucester City.
The “brainchild,” if you will, for this program has been Saint Mary parishioner Carla Herbert, who runs the program with seven volunteers. Earlier this year, after noticing the many youth outside the church each day, recipients of the parish’s daily bag lunch program for the city’s needy, she wanted to do something more for them.
According to her, many of the city’s school-age population, along with their families, lives below the poverty line. For these developing minds, a good, healthy meal is hard to come by.
Herbert prepared everything her students ate during the six-week program.
“A midmorning snack would be a whole grain, like a blueberry muffin with flaxseed; lunch would be a low-fat meat protein; and an afternoon snack would be vegetables, such as carrot or celery sticks,” she said, adding that she’s also introducing them to “new fruits, such as pomegranates, dragon fruit or star fruit.”
Along with this good eating has been improved minds. “As they were fed, they became engaged in the learning,” whether it was learning about the lifecycle of tadpoles at nearby Martin’s Lake, working out math problems or reading.
“These kids are excited to be here. They see their self-value and worth, because they know the church cares about them. We are meeting their physical and mental needs,” Herbert said. Happy kids, she found out, also means grateful parents.
“One parent called me crying, overjoyed that their child was getting milk every day,” she said. With the new school year approaching, youth were sad to see the program and summer coming to an end.“Children were asking when we were going to do this again soon,” Herbert said. She hopes to get an after-school program of some sort established soon, she added.
Herbert, the youth, and their parents have seen the impact these past six weeks had, and aren’t eager to fully say goodbye just yet.
“This program changes lives, one child at a time,” Herbert said.