Wesley-Rankin Community Center is not just another community center, but is distinguished by the passion one can sense on perusing the website. Community Center afterschool programs for under-resourced children proliferate. But it is rare to see them being so selective about the volunteers it seeks to work with the children. It is that desire for passionate and dedicated volunteers that spoke to us, prompting us to support the effort with a small grant. We could see that Wesley-Rankin goes beyond the ordinary to give children something more: something that could rescue them from an otherwise predictably grim future. We believe that they will succeed. We spoke to Wesley-Rankin Executive Director Shellie Ross to learn more about the work of the Wesley-Rankin Community Center:
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us a bit about the population you serve?
Shellie Ross: Wesley-Rankin serves children, adults, and senior citizens in the West Dallas, 75212 zip code. Our parents typically work 2 or more jobs to make ends meet. Most of our children would go to empty homes after school if not for our programming. Our senior citizens typically live by themselves and therefore, desire and need socialization, food and cognitive health exercises. We are a neighborhood who works hard for what we get and due to chance and broken systems, opportunities are less than for the rest of Dallas. At Wesley-Rankin, we strive to offer opportunity.
Kars4Kids: How many students are in the Wesley-Rankin after school program?
Shellie Ross: 125 students. We are at capacity.
Kars4Kids: How many volunteers are working with the kids?
Shellie Ross: We are always in need of more volunteers. Volunteers are more than assistants in a particular area such as reading. Volunteers are mentors. Right now, we have about 10 faithful volunteers a week in tutoring for afterschool. In addition, 30 volunteers oversee interest clubs in the program. B3X summer camp has about 25-40 a day.
Kars4Kids: Your website requests “dedicated, passionate” volunteers for your homework help, after school reading interventions, and summer camp programs. What is important about passion in regard to these tasks?
Shellie Ross: We see a huge difference in volunteers who have a desire to assist a child in reading versus those who may only be looking for service in order to attain hours. Those who have a desire to lend a hand, tend to be more open to learning themselves and their presence is more than staring at a clock. At Wesley-Rankin, sure, we want homework help but most importantly we want caring relationships.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about your longest-serving volunteer.
Shellie Ross: Our longest serving volunteer is named Jackson. Jackson has volunteered for over 50 years. There is absolutely nothing Jackson cannot fix. So whether our internet is not working or a sink is dripping, we always know a call to Jackson eases our minds and the issue at hand. He is kind, compassionate, and truly a joy to have in our Wesley-Rankin family.
Kars4Kids: What is B3X?
Shellie Ross: B3X (Beakers, Base 10 and the Beat) is a summer STEAM enrichment camp. The 7-week program enrolls 225 students to study science, math, reading, art, and character development through project-based activities, in hopes of expanding classroom learning. Many of our students are likely to experience loss in reading and math due to the summer gap in learning. B3X narrows the gap and strives to grow education in the summer. In addition, students participate in first time experiences such as seeing airplanes up close, playing musical instruments and building robots.
Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of Peak?
Shellie Ross: Peak is the name for the K-5th after school program at Wesley-Rankin. Students gather at the Center, beginning at 3:00 to participate in reading and math enrichment. 4:00-4:45 is focused on homework assistance and recreation. From 5:00-6:00, students eat a warm meal and head to interest clubs. In interest clubs, students can take a different class each day of the week. Clubs include basketball, photography, art, coding, etc.
Kars4Kids: Your Ascend program is for middle school students. How is the focus different from your Peak program for the younger kids? What distinguishes the needs of middle school kids?
Shellie Ross: Studies show that brain development primarily happens in two stages, early childhood and middle school. Knowing that in middle school, we have great influence on character development and identity, our program creates a framework around just that. We create a large common space to cultivate and foster diversity, kindness and inclusivity. In addition, every Wednesday, students participate in small groups to discuss topics such as civil rights, family systems and bullying.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about GOh GOh Girls. Why is a program like this needed, even today, after so many years of women fighting for equal rights and consideration?
Shellie Ross: This program started as a result of several teen pregnancies and we found that the pregnancies were caused by a lack of education. After eight years of focusing on self-esteem, goal setting, responsibility and faith, we’ve found even more value in having a girls-only program. Social media, “friends,” and even family members sometimes strip us of worth. This program offers education around girl focused topics and we encourage each other to be our best selves. It’s an ideal family, of sorts.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Wesley Rankin Community Center?
Shellie Ross: We recently partnered with the June Shelton School to offer a Scholars tutoring program for students with learning differences in West Dallas. Every Saturday, students attend sessions in audiology and reading in hopes of gaining the skills needed to learn in school classrooms. In addition, this fall, we will be focusing on our high school program to provide employment-focused skills and training. This is not about training a student to do one job but expanding the education of our program to include tools that are engaging for employers.