Lee Family Learning Center (LFLC), part of Kingsport Housing & Redevelopment Authority (KHRA), has been fighting to end the cycle of under-education and poverty since it first opened at Robert E. Lee Apartments in 1992.
LFLC Coordinator Sherrie Whisnant said the learning center was established “because there was a need for just somewhere for the kids to go.”
“It gives the kids the afterschool homework help and opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Whisnant said of LFLC, which was started with a grant through the Literacy Council of Kingsport.
When Whisnant began working at LFLC two and a half years ago, only six children attended the activities and programs available at the 651 Dale Street (apartments 1, 2 and 3) location. Since then, attendance has skyrocketed, and now 20 to 25 school-age children participate in LFLC activities during the school year, and about 35 children participate during the summer months.
Funded primarily through a Community Development Block Grant, LFLC offers children from low-income families an opportunity to join in positive social interaction in a fun, productive way. Programs and activities include afterschool homework assistance, craft workshops, an onsite computer lab and library, academic tutoring, a summer reading program, Cub Scouts, educational and cultural field trips, and recreational activities.
Adults are offered educational advancement opportunities as well. LFLC provides GED and remedial college courses, parenting and nutrition classes, self-sufficiency assistance and education and career counseling. A Title V worker teaches resume writing and “generations online,” a class for those just learning to use a computer.
“It’s real basic but that’s really what they need,” Whisnant said.
Monthly bingo games are also held for adults as well as a yearly pre-Fun Fest block party, held in July for the entire neighborhood.
Whisnant said some program participants have experienced things for the first time at the center. For instance, some of the children have tasted certain fruits and vegetables for the first time here, and some have experienced going to a movie theater for the first time through LFLC.
“I see people with such wealth, and it breaks my heart to see kids with nothing,” Whisnant said.
LFLC has received some grant funding to benefit the children. For instance, a Kingsport Community Foundation grant allowed the kids to shop for their own fruits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market last fall. Most recently, LFLC received a grant from HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Appalachia to purchase recreational equipment to help combat childhood obesity. And LFLC just received a literacy grant from the Rotary Club of Kingsport to help purchase educational supplies for the children.
Also during the summer, LFLC works to partner with organizations to get scholarships for the kids. This year, one child was able to attend an arts camp at the Kingsport Renaissance Center and 10 others were able to attend WinShape Camps for Communities at Colonial Heights Baptist Church.
Alongside Whisnant, at least two other workers from Kingsport Parks and Recreation assist in the onsite summer program, while AmeriCorps workers and others assist during the school year.
KHRA hopes to duplicate the successes of LFLC at a new learning center at Holly Hills. The new Holly Hills Learning Center will serve the more than 60 children who live at the public housing facility along with children from the surrounding neighborhood.
Whisnant said she’s witnessed first-hand what a difference the LFLC has made in the lives of children, and she’s hoping the children at Holly Hills will soon have a learning center that will make a difference in their lives, too.
“Those kids at Holly Hills need that too, just those extra connections and extra support,” Whisnant said.
A wish list of items for the Holly Hills Learning Center includes: tables, chairs, bookcases, office equipment (computers, printer/copier, etc.), entertainment equipment (TV and wall mount, DVD player, games and movies), educational software and books for all ages, board and card games, arts and craft supplies, and storage containers, a chalkboard, cork boards and a dry erase board, and recreational equipment, such as basketballs, volleyballs, kickballs, jump ropes, etc.
For more information or to find out how you can help, visit the KHRA website at www.kingsporthousing.org or call Lee Family Learning Center at 423-392-2531.