UH-Clear Lake Kids U, Assistance League a Winning Partnership
HOUSTON — Building molecules, launching rockets, mastering Chinese calligraphy – it’s just another day at the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Kids U, where more than 700 area youth participated in the annual summer enrichment programs that have been a feature on the campus for nearly 30 years. For almost as long, the volunteer organization, Assistance League of the Bay Area, has worked in close partnership with the university, aiding the program’s success and ensuring the area’s economically disadvantaged children have a chance to join in the fun and learning.
“We’re able to stretch kids’ minds doing things that they don’t ordinarily do during the school year,” explains Anne Coppenhaver, director of UH-Clear Lake School of Education Center for Educational Programs which houses the summer program.
“Kids U is an extension of the university. It’s not just the facilities, the labs and classrooms. It’s the intellectual capabilities – the intellectual liveliness and thoughtfulness that is here at the university. And the Assistant League is a valuable, valuable part. We couldn’t do it without them,” she notes.
“Not only do they provide scholarships which enable us to serve kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend, but they also lend a hand in the classrooms. The organization doesn’t simply hand out a grant. They have a philosophy that’s critical: their hands and efforts must accompany their money,” Copenhaver explains.
Performing volunteer service is an Assistance League membership requirement, and many members are retired teachers who enjoy assisting in the Kids U classes. The summer program also affords an opportunity for the Assistance League’s teen auxiliary group, the Assisteens, to serve.
“We offer small class sizes and one-on-one attention,” says Coppenhaver, “and when you’re offering classes for four-, five- and six-year-olds, you need one adult for every two kids.” As a not-for-profit operation, the volunteers’ assistance helps keep Kids U’s costs and fees low.
Pam Bungo, serving a second term as the Assistance League president, was among this summer’s volunteers. A retired Deer Park Independent School District teacher, Bungo joined the organization in the mid-’90s after moving from Corpus Christi. What appealed to her was the Assistance League’s emphasis on serving economically disadvantaged children.
“These are the ones that can fall by the wayside if not given special attention and special help,” she says.
For Bungo, volunteering at Kids U has become an annual tradition. “Being a retired teacher, I love being back working with students. It helps me feel like I’m back in the classroom.”
She learns right along with the students whether it’s designing a website, exploring geography, or mixing up strange concoctions, and Bungo takes notes to share the fun with her grandchildren later.
Most rewarding of all is witnessing the scholarships in action. Bungo was impressed with two brothers in one of the chemistry classes but didn’t realize they were scholarship recipients.
“They were the most focused in the class. They hung on every word,” she says.
It wasn’t until the last day when she wore her Assistance League t-shirt that the two approached her.
“They were so proud to have been recipients. They wanted to know if I had read their applications.”
Maria Montemayor, a Boeing manager who has served as the Assistance League’s Kids U project chairperson for two years, believes the enrichment programs help boost the youths’ confidence, especially the bilingual students. It gives them an opportunity to build on social skills in a new environment and with a different approach from elementary school.
Each year, the organization receives a large number of applications. They are able to fulfill most of them, but this year as the deadline neared the Assistance League sponsored a table at a community resource event held for space program employees impacted by recent layoffs. So much interest was expressed among attendees that the league extended the deadline, and Montemayor reports they received nearly twenty more applications.
“The Assistance League board gave me an additional budget so that we were able to get everyone in who made the deadline,” she says.
In all, the organization provided $8,180 in scholarships, giving sixty children access to the Kids U classes, and over the course of the seven-week program, 16 members and 28 Assisteens volunteered a total of 427 hours classroom hours.
The partnership between the Assistance League and Kids U dates to the late 1980’s when a steering committee first explored starting a chapter in the Bay Area.
“The committee wanted to provide programs at UH-Clear Lake because of its positive impact on the community, and they also wanted to emphasis programs that would help children in need,” says Bungo.
They recognized they could accomplish both goals through the Kids U program; providing scholarships, while offering a volunteering venue for its members.
In 1989 the Assistance League membership approved the project and the partnership was forged. UH-Clear Lake publicly recognized and honored the Assistance League with its Community Partnership Award in 2006, citing its financial support through its scholarship program and its continuing commitment of assistance to the university.
Kids U traces its start to the early 1980s, evolving from a Gifted and Talented summer program. Today the Gifted Academy is still in place, but its philosophy of challenging young minds while entertaining has been borrowed and expanded into each of the various summer camps offered from World Explorers Camp to Science Camp to this year’s newest – Brain Power Camp.
For more information about Kids U and the Center for Educational Programs, call the university’s Center for Educational Programs, 281-283-3530, or visit http://kidsu.uhcl.edu.