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After-school program fills community need

By KBell
May 5, 2012 at 12:05 a.m.

David Garza, 6, watches as Ada Sutherland shows him how to punch holes in what will become a flag to decorate the room with during the Manhattan Art Program at the Pine Street Community Center. The program is open to children after school Thursday and Friday and on Saturdays.

Biting into the cheesiest part of his quesadilla, Jacob Cantu said he'd never cooked before.

"Toast, Pop-Tarts and cereal - that's it," the 7-year-old said.

But thanks to an after-school program at the Pine Street Community Center, Jacob created his first stove-top cuisine, which he then promptly devoured.

The quesadilla cooking was part of the Manhattan Art Program's latest adventure, which seeks to introduce kids of all ages to art and culture.

"We didn't want to put an age limit because these children have got to have something free. It's been really good," said Jeri Franks, who leads the MAP program in VISD schools.

On a recent afternoon, the kids, one as young as 3, were exploring a "fiesta" theme in anticipation of Cinco de Mayo. They painted maracas, cut paper flags and decorated donkeys with flashy ornaments before washing their hands and taking on the kitchen.

Calista and Celeste Garcia, cousins who attend F.W. Gross Montessori School, painted their plastic-bottled maracas and chatted about their day. While Celeste's was a rainbow of colors and smiley faces, Calista's boasted stripes of red, yellow and green.

"These are my favorite colors because my dad likes them," she said.

Calista, 8, pretty much dedicates her afternoons at the Pine Street Community Center solely to making gifts for her father. Though she couldn't bring herself to save the quesadilla for sharing, she couldn't wait to tell him about that, either.

"One day we made rocks - we painted them and stuff - and he has a whole shelf with my art," Calista said.

Besides bonding children and parents, the after-school program has fostered relationships between the kids and volunteers from Trinity Episcopal Church, which bought the Pine Street property in the fall.

Ada Sutherland, 71, said the 60-something children who have attended the after-school program love to come in and tell everyone about what they did that day at school.

"There's a joy. They're running and just all excited," Sutherland said. "It's good for children, I think, to have relationships with others besides just in their family, with older people and with different ethnic groups."

Sutherland said when the church first bought the property, its members canvassed the neighborhood, asking what residents would like from the building. First and foremost, they asked for something for their kids to do after school.

As Sutherland talked about how the project has been more successful than they'd imagined, Celeste approached her and rested her head on Sutherland's shoulder.

"We love the kids. We're making connections, right Celeste?" she said.



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