On Valentine’s Day I was at work but my heart was at the LSS Southern Hills After-School Program. You see, each day after school my two precious daughters head to a place they love while I am busy at work. Teacher and author, Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I consider myself incredibly blessed to be able to have my heart protected and nurtured by people who care so deeply in a setting that my children enjoy.
I should mention that I am the director of child care and education for LSS of South Dakota, so I am clearly a supporter of afterschool programs. But it’s my personal experience as a parent with kids in a program that has caused me to have a special place in my heart for Southern Hills. The staff members there are educators who are passionate about the development of school age children. They choose activities and materials that will both challenge and excite my daughters and their friends.
At Southern Hills my youngest has developed her reading skills. She has opportunities to practice reading in a setting she finds motivating. She feels confident as a reader and she loves the learning games she participates in each afternoon.
My oldest has found a place to challenge her. She loves science and art, and the staff at Southern Hills are good mentors who help her to explore these passions. She tries new things without fear because at After-School there is no grade, only “do your best and have fun.” She learns concepts in a hands-on and creative setting that helps her to retain her knowledge. She has learned to try new things and to become a leader among her peers.
Both girls are healthier because of their time at Southern Hills. They run, play, jump and eat healthy snacks. They learn to make good choices and develop healthy friendships in a supportive, safe environment. I am so certain they are safe that I never worry even for a moment about them being out of my sight while they are at their program. I am more productive at work because I am sure that my daughters are safe, happy, healthy and learning.
South Dakota is the state with the highest number of families in which both parents work, so my love for Southern Hills puts me in good company. I am one of hundreds of parents who are thankful that their children are safe and learning while they are doing the jobs that keep our state’s economy running. We know that our children are being supervised and taught by caring adults and we know our children are happy, and that is a great relief to a working mom like me. Hundreds of kids just like mine leave the school each day with a giant grin ready for more learning, more fun and a place to call their own. What’s more, there are kids like mine all over the United States who experience new things, improve their academic skills and find enrichment in places like Southern Hills. So today, when everything I see has a heart on it I think of my own two hearts and how thankful I am to have them in a place that makes such a difference.
Mom of Mickila and Addi Joy
Director of Childcare and Education Services at Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota