WIMAUMA, Fla. — Good Afternoon, Friends and Amigos is an after-school program on the campus of Wimauma's Reddick Elementary School.
The program is funded by the Hillsborough County Children's Board and sponsored by the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (Gulf Coast JFCS).
This isn't your typical after-school program. It focuses on social and emotional learning, mindfulness and family engagement for children of migrant workers in grades K-3.
The kids participate in activities like yoga and creating a mural with a local artist for a beautification project.
"I've learned that the families that we work with are extremely hardworking, that they want the best for their children, that these children come to school every day and it is the most consistent place in their life where they can feel safe, where they can feel taken care of, where they know, they're gonna get fed, that we are not just feeding their bellies, but we're feeding their minds and we're feeding their hearts," Mary Torres, Program Manager of Good Afternoon Friends and Amigos said.
The program launched in 2017 and has been a success. Families are excited for their kids to join and the kids are excited about what they learn.
"I think that right now with, with what we've just gone through collectively, right with COVID, and with lots of social unrest in the world, mindfulness, and really being able to pay attention to how you're feeling is very important. And the schools have also started to do, you know, brief activities in their academic classrooms," explained Torres.
"So what I've learned is this community is really — I'm really reaching out to make their lives better and make their children's lives better. And once they found us, we have, we have families for life. We have kids that are in kindergarten, who stay with us until the third grade, parents are already trying to bring their four-year-old to the program, we have to tell them that they need to wait."
Torres hopes the program can expand to fourth and fifth grades next year because for her, this mission means a lot.
"I'm a Latina woman, I grew up fairly poor in foster care. And so to be able to come and work in a community, with these children who I share a lot of history with, and be able to make their lives special, make them feel special, and help their families become more competent in how they take care of their children and understand their growth and development. I feel very fulfilled and working in this program, being able to use my life experience in a positive way. And so I am very grateful," explained Torres.