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Chester County Press

Program enriches the lives of children throughout southern Chester County

08/13/2014 10:45AM ● By Lev

“The children are so excited to see us. We do songs and games. I think the adults appreciate that we are doing something for them.” ~ Ghisele Curcio Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Membership Engagement Manager.

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

“The ponies are coming!”

“The ponies are coming!”

Sure enough, just moments after the excited boy’s shouts ring out, the ponies arrive—two of them. The group of youngsters at this trailer park on Pennock’s Bridge Road are elated. Within a few minutes, Amy O’Grady, the coordinator of the 4-H Pony Partners Project, has the ponies unloaded and she is teaching the children about how to care for the animals.

It’s Friday, August 8 and the Penn State Cooperative Extension 4-H Creating Community Networks program is bringing a variety of activities to one of the small, forgotten communities in the area where children might not have the resources to attend a more traditional summer camp.

According to Laurie Szoke, the program educator, the reach of 4-H Creating Community Networks now extends from Oxford to Coatesville—there are more than 15 communities throughout Chester County.

The offerings at each site are different. Today, the visit from the ponies is a highlight for children like Melanie Cruz and Daniel Herrera. Melanie, 11, said that the appearance of the ponies was her favorite part of this summer’s activities, topping even the time when she made an animal out of beads. Daniel, 9, said that he was interested in learning that the ponies lived for up to 30 years.

“He’s one that likes whatever happens here,” explained Szoke of Herrera.

Since the Creating Community Networks outreach was established more than two decades ago, there has been an ever-expanding list of offerings and collaborations with each program in the summer. For these youngsters, this program is a cross between a summer camp and a vacation, offering children the opportunity to enjoy arts, crafts, lessons on nutrition and agriculture, and sports. The summer program takes place from June through August, a critical time for youngsters who are out of school.

Szoke said that the goal of the program is to fill in the gaps that exist by bringing activities and services directly to neighborhoods where they are needed.

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania has been a longtime collaborator with Creating Community Networks. Ghisele Curcio is a Membership Engagement Manager with the organization. She said that it’s an enjoyable experience to bring lessons about self-esteem and how to set goals for life to hundreds of children each year. The program dovetails nicely with the mission of the Girl Scouts organization.

“It’s great,” Curcio said. “The children are so excited to see us. We do songs and games. I think the adults appreciate that we are doing something for them.”

Curcio said that one thing that’s unique about the outreach here in Chester County is the large number of partners that Creating Community Networks is able to pull together.

“One of the nice things is that we have the collaboration of 4-H and other organizations,” Curcio said.

Szoke said that Creating Community Networks has been serving children so long that some of the youngsters from the early years of the program have grown up and now have children of their own. One such person is Soledad Rodriguez, who was 13 when the program came to her home community on Lake Road. Rodriguez fondly recalls reading to other children, starting a mini-library for others to use, meeting interesting people, and baking at the summer program.

“It was fun and it gave us things to do,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t always have things to do.”

Now, Rodriguez can help youngsters as they enjoy similar experiences.

“The kids really respond to her,” Szoke said.

In addition the week-long program, a highlight each year is a visit to the 4-H Fair during the first week of August.

The summer program is just one facet of Creating Community Networks, which has activities and offerings all year long, including after-school programming and special activities during the holidays. After repeat visits each summer and throughout the school year, the Creating Community Networks program is entrenched in small communities like Avondale Apartments, Basciani Court in Toughkenamon, and one of three sites in Kennett Square.

Szoke credited the small but dedicated staff and the many collaborators with helping to make the program a success each year. The program is dependent on funding from a variety of sources, including individuals who have faithfully provided support through the years.

“These programs are making a difference for the children,” Szoke said. “It takes a community to make this happen.”

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