Roman J. Salamon

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Winning the fight for the futures of local youth --- one neighborhood at a time

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School’s out and a bright, precocious 3rd grader named Anastasia walks hesitantly up to the front door of 908 8th Ave., in the heart of Midtown, one of Rockford’s most impoverished neighborhoods. She notices how pretty the house looks, with its fresh new paint and newly planted flowers. The front door suddenly opens. “I’m Anastasia,” she says shyly to the young woman.

“Welcome to United Way’s Strong Neighborhood House!” says Miss Melissa, one of the summer counselors. “You’re our first! C’mon in!”

Word begins to spread among the other kids in the neighborhood. Eighty-percent live in poverty and for most, there won’t be any summer vacations, day camp or trips to the lake.

So they begin showing up at the Strong Neighborhood House: first in ones and twos, and then in groups of three and four. Soon, on any given weekday, there are 15 or 20, playing four-square or double-dutch, enjoying a box lunch, reading quietly or playing chess in the reading room, having a water balloon fight and, best of all, taking a Friday field trip to Magic Waters or the local fire department or another of the many places they’ve never been.

For many of the kids, these activities help reduce the ‘summer slide’ – the well documented loss of academic skills over the summer. Parents, grandparents, relatives and neighbors begin stopping by too, to check on their kids or pick one of the homegrown tomatoes the kids are growing or just out of curiosity. They begin to see that the kids are thriving in this safe, nurturing environment. Word gets around that crime in the neighborhood is down too, and pretty soon tomatoes and flowers are growing in the neighbors’ yards and the entire neighborhood just seems, well, happier…

The Strong Neighborhood Houses are thriving in Midtown and Ellis Heights with activities during the summer and off days throughout the school year. Together with community partners, volunteers and donors, we’re winning the fight for Anastasia and the future of local at-risk youth – one house, one neighborhood at a time.


Stories like Anastasia's illustrate the incredible impact United Way's neighborhood work makes on the Rock River Valley. United Way's Strong Neighborhoods initiative focuses resources directly into two of the region's most challenged neighborhoods to improve the quality of life for children and families --- because strong neighborhoods make a strong community.

Donate now to support programs and services like the Strong Neighborhoods Houses.

 

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For thousands of area youth, middle school is the defining moment in their lives. See how United Way and its partners are creating a movement to help middle school students achieve success. Visit www.movethemiddlenow.org.

Parents or guardians of children ages birth to five who are residents of Meridian CUSD #223 can register for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library today!

Don't wait another day. Call 2-1-1 to connect with information on counseling programs and support groups to help you reestablish safety and independence.

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