Surrounded by her peers, Darleen Murry smiled while making an attempt to remove a block from a stacked tower. As she slid the block, the tower began to fall.
“I learned that when you play that game, you mess up because some people get in your head which is a really bad thing,” Murry said while played Jenga, a game of skills.
She is one of many students enjoying a youth summer program hosted by The Friendly Trio Community Development Corporation. Agents from Sampson County and Duplin County Cooperative Extension are helping with educational lessons for the sessions scheduled to continue through August. Some of them involve health, nutrition, self-esteem and gardening.
Denise M. McIntyre, extension 4-H program assistant, led the Jenga game, which was used to teach the purpose of being focused in life. At the Sampson County Center for Cooperative Extension, she also educates youths through substance abuse prevention and interpersonal skills building. During the program, McIntyre will work with the participants on noticing things or people who are becoming distractions to personal goals.
“I think that it’s very important that kids learn at a young age to balance their time with friends, family and school while limiting their distractions from outside sources such as social media, TV, movies and other peer groups,” McIntyre said.
This summers marks the first time, The Friendly Trio Community Development Corporation has worked with youths through its 3FK (Friendly Feeding For Kids) initiative. Under the leadership of President Charles Strickland, the organization began with a mission to provide food and nutritional services to senior citizens.
“Our long-range goal is to prepare these kids for another step in life,” Strickland said. “This is what it takes.”
Gail Grantham, chair of the summer program, said volunteers wanted to continue their mission by doing more special things for the community. One way to accomplish that goal was through a feeding program for local children and teens. An average of 30 students participate each week.
“We have people who aren’t feed and have needs that we’re not aware of,” Grantham said while stressing the importance of the program. “We just wanted to help meet those needs during the summer.”
Volunteers went from door to door and talked with people from local churches to spread awareness and get participants.
“We hope to grow in many areas,” Grantham said. “This is just another area where we can help our community and reach out.”
Fresh fruit and vegetables are served on Thursdays. With the program being held Monday through Thursday, youths take home food for a nutritious meal during the weekend. One bag of food contains three breakfast meals, six snacks and three dinners for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Lethia Lee, a program assistant for Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, is working with parents on nutrition and the importance of eating healthy foods. She believes it good for parents and children to receive the same information.
“That way neither one will have to convince the other,” Lee said. “I am so appreciative of this opportunity to teach these life lessons to a group of adults that are so interested in learning. I feel they will take something away from the lessons that will help them become more healthy.”
During the summer, Horticulture Agent Brad Hardison plans to teach the youths about making upside down tomato plants out of empty 2-liter bottles and clothes hangers. Master Gardeners are also scheduled to visit.
Physical activity is being taught by Janetta Matthews, an agent for SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education). The lessons are being taught through the C.A.T.C.H. (Coordinated Approach To Child Health) Kids Club, a program associated with North Carolina State University.
“I think programs as such are important to educate youth about nutrition because it’s the foundation of preventive measures,” Matthews said. “Educating participants early helps prepare them for an open mindset for healthy living. The earlier you start to educate your participants the better it will be for them to embrace change towards healthy living.”
Sydney Johnson, area agent for Family and Consumer Sciences, was contacted about making the food stretch during the week and got her colleagues involved too.
“Through all of these resources provided by Extension, the children are learning how to live a healthy lifestyle through making healthier food choices, exercising daily, staying away from drugs and alcohol and even growing their own food,” Johnson said. “We are so thankful to be a resource for the Friendly Trio’s amazing efforts in feeding Sampson County’s children.”
In addition to Cooperative Extension, the program is receiving assistance from Second Harvest Food Bank, Clinton City Schools, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, United Way of Sampson County and other sponsors. Strickland appreciates the support. It began more than a decade ago to help seniors. Residents in Butler Court was one of the first groups served.
“This is our goal,” Strickland said. “We know that we’ll never eradicate hunger, but we’ll do our best.”
In 2017, the program’s goal is to provide 280 food bags each month and provide hot meals to 100 people. In addition to monthly efforts, Friendly Trio also helps during countywide emergencies. More than 7 hot meals were provided to elderly and disabled residents during the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
“We would love for everyone to help us out,” Grantham said. “We’re looking for volunteers and for people who are in need.”