Tricia Ziese knows what it’s like to struggle as a single mother, especially when COVID-19 lockdowns added years of near-solitude to the normal difficulties a child faces in adolescence.
This year in Chehalis, parents face an additional challenge: a new 90-minute early release schedule every Wednesday.
Working parents already walk a tightrope of child care even on normal school days. Having a child released in the early afternoon once a week could be more than some families can handle, she said.
“For me this would have been devastating,” she told me. “I genuinely probably would have lost my job if I hadn’t found child care. I wanted to help families that are already struggling right now.”
Fortunately, she was in a position to not only address that challenge, but turn it into an amazing opportunity.
Ziese is the director of the new Bethel After School Program. She and other leaders at Bethel Church (headquartered off of Exit 72 south of Chehalis) spent the last few months creating, from scratch, a new after-school program for kids on those early-release days.
“It’s another way to help those kids get back on track, feel supported and thrive,” Ziese told me after the debut of the program earlier this week.
“I’ve been in touch with teachers and school principals. I told them, ‘Our goal is you will feel an impact in your classrooms. Something will change in your kids, something will ignite in their hearts, some of the walls that have come up around the students because they’ve lost their social skills will fall.’”
The new Bethel After School Program started on Wednesday with 72 students, mostly elementary-age. I was there as a volunteer (I attend Bethel Church and went through the extensive background check and training required of all church members who are volunteering). My daughter, a sophomore, came with a few friends to help. My son, in seventh grade, came as a student in the program.
It was a great day. The kids had a blast and the adults had a chance to support the young people of our community. From songs and artwork to snacks and plenty of games, the time was well-planned and organized. It’ll only grow from here.
The after-school program was an inspiring example of what happens when good people come together proactively and creatively to meet a potential problem head-on.
Chehalis school leaders, to their credit, had recognized that while early releases allow staff time to collaborate, they also create challenges for parents (and just maybe an opportunity for educational enrichment).
The school district offered an unused portion of Olympic Elementary School to any nonprofit community group that could provide after-school programs. I was part of the committee that reached out to myriad community groups presenting the offer and asking for help.
There was a little bit of interest here and there, but Bethel Church was the only group to step forward with a fully formed plan and the organizational chops — plus volunteers and financial resources (members of the congregation have donated $85,000 for the after-school program to date!) — to make it happen.
There is zero school district involvement in the program, which gives Bethel the freedom to offer spiritual education as part of the after-school offerings.
So what does that mean?
“Our focus is just really centered around the idea that they are loved by the Lord as they are,” Ziese said. “He loves them. And he welcomes everyone to him... We want those kids to know that they matter, that they were created on purpose and that they are loved.”
I’m thankful that the kids of our community have a safe, fun place to hear that message and grow in mind, body and spirit.
It’s going to be a great year.
Brian Mittge might or might not have kicked a GLORIOUS HOME RUN during the kickball portion of Wednesday’s after-school activities. (Okay, okay, he did. You can stop applauding.) Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Space still available in new Chehalis program
Parents who are looking for child care or a place for their K-12 student to have some healthy activities each Wednesday from 12:30 to 4 p.m. are invited to sign up for the Bethel After-School Program.
There are still 100 slots available in the program.
The cost is $20 per month, which works out to about $5 per week, including snacks, beverages and art supplies. That’s the most affordable child care you’ll ever find!
Learn more and sign up at www.bethel-church.com.