Every day is Independence Day: How we help kids in the U.S.

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Posted on 07/03/2023

Most people know that ChildFund works all over the world supporting children to grow up healthy, educated and safe. What many people don’t know is what we’re doing to help kids in the United States – because children here in our own backyard need support, too!

In fact, more than 11 percent of people in our country live below the poverty line. That translates to 37.9 million people struggling to have their basic needs met – many of them children. For a child growing up in a household where things like housing and groceries are not guaranteed, life can be stressful and unpredictable. That toxic stress negatively affects children’s physical, mental and emotional development for the long haul, making it much harder for them to achieve their full potential.

ChildFund is dedicated to helping children in the United States grow up to become healthy, independent members of society. Through safe spaces in schools, unique afterschool programs and enriching summer camps, we reach U.S. children where they are with the message that they matter, no matter what their circumstances are.

Keeping kids safe in the U.S.

Three children in the U.S. smile up close in front of the camera.Friends in Operation Shoestring’s summer camp, fueled by ChildFund, play on the playground. Source: Operation Shoestring

In Jackson, Mississippi, the poverty rate is more than 100 times the U.S. average. Many families struggle to afford quality child care, which makes summertime an annual challenge. Similarly – and of particular concern for parents – rates of violent crime are double the national average.

ChildFund helps fuel an afterschool and summer program in Jackson through our local partner organization Operation Shoestring. This year, Operation Shoestring’s all-day summer camp, Project Rise, is serving 160 children in grades K-7. The program keeps kids safe in a nurturing, stimulating environment while their parents and caregivers are at work.

The staff of these afterschool and summer programs focus on creating horizon-expanding experiences for children – everything from summer reading to computer science to swimming lessons to learning to bake with local restaurants and exploring the beautiful parks in the Metro-Jackson area. As a result of these stimulating, educational experiences, “Shoestring kids” typically demonstrate greater academic growth and have better school attendance than their peers who aren’t in the program. Data even tells us that kids and their parents feel better and more hopeful because of the supportive opportunities we’re able to provide.

A young boy smiles at the camera. Javier, a fourth-grader in Operation Shoestring’s summer camp, loves it. “If I didn’t have Shoestring, I’d just be at home doing nothing. It’s better to be here. It’s awesome!” Source: Operation Shoestring

The program is about more than just providing stimulating experiences for kids, however. Many parents with children in the program have expressed concerns about their community’s safety and feel that Shoestring is one of the few reliably safe places for their families in the city. Without the program, kids like Javier likely wouldn’t have access to a safe, nurturing environment filled with friends and supportive adults. This is just one example of how your support of ChildFund is a great way to help kids in the U.S. access the tools they need for future success.

Boosting confidence & literacy in the U.S.

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border, children face unique challenges. One-third of families live below poverty level, and many children have limited access to basic resources like health care and affordable housing. Literacy rates remain low among both children and adults, but ChildFund’s school-based programs are working to change that.

Our programs in Texas use books as the basis for small-group activities that help children develop not only literacy, but also socioemotional skills. Once a week, ChildFund-affiliated members of AmeriCorps meet with children in a small group to read stories together that have positive messages about overcoming problems, managing emotions and developing healthy self-esteem. Then the children participate in creative group activities based on the books, encouraging them to explore their own experiences with these themes. They sing and dance out their emotions, make art, and even write stories of their own to dig into their fears. We like to call these special groups No Pressure Zones because they pave the way for children to de-stress, let go of the many pressures they face and build resilience to life’s challenges.

This year, our U.S. programs team distributed books at several schools in the Rio Grande Valley for children to take home with them for the summer as part of our efforts to reduce summer learning loss. In addition to selecting their books, the children participated in self-expressive games and activities in which they shared ideas with their peers about their “dream summer.”

Children choose books from a table.Kids in the Rio Grande Valley choose their summer books.

When we give children the opportunity to find themselves within books and storytelling – and, even more importantly, the chance to express themselves – we find that they can and do become more resilient to the challenges they face in life.

Creating safe spaces for kids in the U.S.

Children in Texas are not the only ones who benefit from No Pressure Zones and other safe spaces. In Richmond, Virginia, home of ChildFund’s international headquarters, we support children through our local partner organization Communities in Schools (CIS), which is dedicated to building more resilient school communities by supporting students’ myriad needs. We believe that when students have the tools they need to manage stress and relate to others in positive ways, schools and communities are stronger, too.

Our partnership with CIS in Richmond has allowed us to build small-group literacy circles libraries and create “calming corners” across multiple elementary schools – and even some middle and high schools. These environments include libraries full of books with lessons on building social skills, problem solving, positive peer relationships, conflict resolution and resilience. Created as spaces in which to facilitate small groups or just as calm places where children can go to de-stress and just be themselves, the “calming corners” are popular among students of all ages. It is no coincidence that students experiencing emotional distress frequently go to these areas to deescalate.

Teenagers sit on the floor in a circle, meditating.Youth meditate at a calming corner in a Richmond-area public school during the pandemic. Source: CIS Richmond

Help kids in the U.S.

As a ChildFund supporter, you’re not only helping children in other countries grow up healthy, educated and safe – you’re lending a hand to children here at home who need a little extra support to become more independent, confident and ready to make their mark on the world. Sponsor a child in the U.S. today, or give us a call at 1-800-776-6767 to make a donation to our U.S. programs. There’s no better way to celebrate and give back to children in our country!