Why I Love SOAR! - Kaylin Smith - SOAR Daily Staff Member

I absolutely love SOAR. I fell in love with it from the moment that I started working here. It sounds cheesy, but it’s way more than just a job to me. It’s a place where I can go and forget about all my other worries and struggles. I walk in, and I know that the children in my group need my focus way more than my group project. I channel my energy because I know that despite how dirty my apartment is or how badly I need to call my mom back, that these kids are craving my attention. They are looking for someone to care for them and love them well. And by working here, I have declared that person to be me! 

So what is really crazy about this job is that it does so much for you. It seems like a lot of work to focus so much energy on one thing, especially being a college student who doesn’t seem to have enough energy to go around. But this job grows you. This job has taught me how to love others just as Christ has loved me. These kids are cute, but they are also hard. They don’t listen and they can be so stubborn sometimes. But my daily realization when I walk into SOAR is how much more Christ loves me, despite how difficult I am. I love them, not because they deserve it or because it’s in my job description, but because Jesus has revealed to me, through this job, that He loves me more than I could ever love Him. But out of my love for Him- out of that overflow- I will love these kids. And maybe, just maybe, through me loving them, these kids will see Christ’s love. 

It isn’t always easy. They are super cute, but they mess up. But this is just one of the reason that SOAR is such a beautiful place. Love requires grace, and every single day, we get the opportunity to show children grace. The way that we do discipline enables us to whip their wrongdoings clean every evening after SOAR ends, and everyday they start clean. I cannot even count the amount of times I have used this example to explain to my kids what grace is. Grace is loving someone despite what they have done, and I feel like this helps the kids know how much we love them. SOAR doesn’t give up on them. SOAR wants to see them succeed and the people at SOAR will do whatever they can to see that each child does just that. 

And that is why I absolutely love SOAR. That I why I feel like I am a really lucky person to get the opportunity to work somewhere that matters and desires to make a difference. This place has changed a lot of children’s lives, and it has also changed mine too.

-Kaylin Smith, 2-year SOAR staff member

Rise Up!

This August marked my fourth year of working for the best after school program in the nation. We have created an atmosphere that allows students to feel safe and supported by promoting an uplifting after school program experience. Our program enables students to have an amazingly-fun time throughout our jam packed schedule of classes, clubs, and ongoing opportunities. We see growth in our students through the interactions that occur with a team of staff who are dedicated to fostering healthy mentoring-relationships. Our program promotes 6 character traits, which calls our students to act in a manner that raises the bar. We have high expectations for every one of our students, because we are confident that they are capable of achieving greatness. I am thankful for the journey and the experiences that SOAR has provided me over my time here. I know in my heart that SOAR is impacting the lives of every student, family member, and staff that are involved in our programs. SOAR is teaching, using, and challenging Northwest Arkansas to Rise Up and overcome the challenges of living in today’s world.

What has SOAR taught me?

I have learned a lot through working for SOAR; things like improved educational approaches, a wider knowledge of classroom management skills, and a deepened appreciation for staff development. While my educational background has improved, I think the biggest thing that I have been taught is to disregard my insecurities and ignore any hint of uncomfortableness. Once I have learned to master this skill, I can manage anything that is placed in front of me. I work on developing this skill through my weekly routine. My job allows me to interact with students, staff, and parents and help them solve problems in their lives. I learn by working side by side with partnerships that are flourishing well with what they do. I learn educational techniques from a school that has a team of top-of-the-line educators and a highly dedicated administration. I have learned to see students for who they are, not what they have been labeled. I have learned to communicate with parents in a way that is not accusatory or degrading. I have learned to love my staff in a way that makes them feel appreciated and needed within the program. I have learned to encourage students to Rise Up and be who they want to be!

How has SOAR used me?

It is crazy to think about how a role, or position, may have used you--but looking back, I know that I have been given much responsibility and granted much trust from this job. SOAR has used me to love each student and staff individually for who they are, and what they bring to the table. SOAR has used me to carry on the traditions that my former boss started when the first ideas of SOAR were formed. We are passionate about service, opportunity, academics, and recreation. These 4 components are what we stand for and what we create our programming around. SOAR has used me to challenge students to make a difference and apply the SOAR 6 to their life. SOAR has used me to go outside my comfort zone and into the lives of families involved with our program. SOAR has used me to be an advocate, a voice, a friend, a teacher, and a guide in many ways. I hope that I am used in a way that will promote positive community engagement and substantial educational growth for the students in SOAR. I am used well at SOAR when I choose to Rise Up.

How has SOAR challenged me?

SOAR is a place that pushes you to do something different. Whether you are a student or a staff member, a teacher or a parent-SOAR will challenge you. We have a successful program because we have accepted the challenge and gone above “the norm” of afterschool program care. SOAR has challenged me to learn about new groups of people and immerse myself in their culture. SOAR has challenged me to put myself in other people’s shoes and consider different perspectives. SOAR has challenged me to stand up for what I believe and for those who are underappreciated. After working for SOAR, I have been challenged in areas I did not know needed growth. As a SOAR staff member, you will be challenged more than you have in any other job. You are challenged to do better, because you are working with children who desire your best. I want to love well, serve hard, and respond when I’m called. Because of my experience with SOAR, I have been challenged to make a change. I want to eagerly respond to the challenge of rising up, and I want to challenge others to Rise Up!

Panther Parent Academy at Parson Hills Elementary

Panther Parent Academy is an adult education program for Parson Hills Elementary parents that seeks to inform, equip and come alongside families to advocate for their overall economic, social and personal well-being.  

When Camp War Eagle’s After School Program, SOAR, expanded to Parson Hills Elementary in 2015 part of the vision for expanding and growing was to kickstart a program for the families of our kids and the school.

During SOAR’s involvement with Jones Elementary, we came alongside an existing program that the school was running called Parent University. Parent University, or P.U. a weekly opportunity that incentivized parental involvement in classes and topic studies relevant to them culturally, economically and socially. P.U. started with the efforts of Principal Melissa Fink and other Jones teachers. The partnership with SOAR and P.U. led to unique opportunities for deeper partnerships with Camp and the school and strengthened or created relationships that had never before been accessed by our organization.

As a summer camp and an after-school program there is limited interactions with the families of the kids we set out to serve, so this development was indeed unmapped wilderness for Camp War Eagle. It prompted discussion for the new SOAR sight at Parson Hills, which was well funded by the Walton Family Foundation and a 21CCLC grant through the state, to have an element of its program be specifically dedicated to engaging the families of the school.

That led to the Parson Hills site starting what we now call Panther Parent Academy, or P.P.A. The goal of the program is to connect on a personal level with Parson Hills families, and especially those of our SOAR families through weekly gatherings where we facilitate adult classes about cultural, financial and personal issues, provide childcare and offer a family-style dinner. We have partnered with organizations all over the area like Freedom5one, Art Feeds, Team Springdale, The Jones Center, the Springdale Police Department and Springdale Schools.

Principal Heather Cooper, who came to the school four years ago, said it has been difficult to form much or any kind of parent involvement outside of what is mandatory. So when SOAR brought the idea to Mrs. Cooper she was thrilled about the possibilities it would create for the parents to get involved in something that could further the school’s relationships and opportunities for the families.

In previous sessions we have covered things like personal health and wellness and partnered with the school nurse and UofA med students, we also did a miniseries on safety and awareness and brought in the school’s resource officer to give a presentation on gang awareness and even did a miniseries with Freedom 51 on personal finance and budgeting.

This semester we are doing a series inspired by a very successful class at Jones Elementary P.U. called ‘pathway to graduation’ where we bring in guidance counselors from the proceeding schools our Parson Hills students will feed into to talk about the specifics of that grade level. Whether it be emotional health and wellness, athletic or extracurricular opportunities, or how parents can be involved we are covering it from middle school all the way to their college experience.

We also break up these classes with nights of pure fun for the whole family to let loose and have a good time with each other! The most recent one we had was a family BINGO night that was held in the school’s library. We had over 70 people in attendance- some who had never played BINGO before! It was a night full of pizza, prizes and giggles and something that is on the verge of becoming a tradition.

The program is small but growing and we are learning just how much these families care not only about themselves and their own well-being, but that of their kids and we are so grateful for a place to partner with them- we are excited for the coming weeks and years of this partnership!




Growing Together

           As a SOAR staff member, I am always trying to find ways to help better teach the kids educationally and through life lessons.  However, what I don’t think about is that they indirectly teach us, too!  It’s not just a one-way discipline cycle, we all grow and learn through each other and it’s a beautiful thing.

         Monday, September 20th was the very first swimming day of the year.  As a past competitive swimmer I was super pumped to be able to share this past experience with them now.  The kids were super excited when they arrived that day and wanted to fly through dinner so they’d get more time to swim.  As we walked into the hallway the immediate smell of chlorine filled the air and all the kids were jumping with excitement.  Although I had one worry.  It was small and silly but it scared me a little if the kids noticed and reacted.  After we all changed in the locker rooms the kids lined up at the door and met Miss Sam to give them permission to go jump in the pool.  The pool was such a rush; the water is always cold at first but kids never seem to be phased by it.  The boys were throwing the football and the girls playing tag.  It made me happy to see them so happy and enjoying their time. I was just wading through the wavy water making my way around the ecstatic kids.  One boy in particular called me over, and asked me what my name was again since it was only week four of SOAR.  After I told him he remembered saying, “Oh yeah, you wear glasses usually!  And today you look very pretty by the way.”  This struck me as a surprise since he was one of the younger kids and a boy who usually doesn’t think to compliment others at that age.  This comment also happened to confront my worry that day.  My face had been broken out pretty bad and I didn’t want the kids to react in a negative way since we were swimming and it wasn’t going to be covered up.  It’s a silly thing to worry about but it filled my 18-year-old mind.  This little boy’s comment immediately made my day and realized just how thankful I am for their presence in my life.  It’s amazing how they can indirectly make me feel better without even knowing I had the problem in the first place.  The humility children have without even knowing is astounding.  

This experience opened my mind and made me realize this is a perfect example of why Jesus tells us to love others like children do (Matthew 18:3-4).  Children have this unconditional love for everyone.  They accept things in simplicity.  It’s only when we grow up when we start to question everything.  The currency of the kingdom of heaven is faith.  This is why we must have faith like a child.  I am so blessed to be a part of the SOAR family and also have the influence of every single one of these kiddo’s in my life.  We help them, and they also help us develop and learn in the faith, too!

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory now and forever.  Amen.”  2 Peter 3:18

Author: Creighton Panas

Family Bingo Night at Jones SOAR

"Bingo!" Mr. Javier yelled from his table in the back. He had won his first Bingo game. EVER. He had never heard of Bingo. He had no clue what he was getting himself into when his two children had begged him to stay for family bingo night. He had no clue when he said "yes" to his children; and let alone, he had no idea he'd have beginner's luck and win a prize. 

On September 21st we had our first family event of the year at the Jones Center. I had advertised one week in advance and had personally invited families to attend just a couple of days before Bingo Night. I greeted them and reminded them to join us for a night of food, family, and fun hoping to encourage them to come. I had four families that signed up, totaling my numbers up to twenty, and families that verbally told me they would come. I was nervous but very excited to see the outcome for the following day.

Javier & His Family

Javier & His Family

It was finally the day of Family Bingo Night. I was so distressed and worried, especially since I have never had a family event that was specific only to SOAR families, and held in our own program area. I feared that no families would show up and the prizes and pizza I had bought would be a total waste. My mind was in a hundred places at once and my discouraged heart clouded my judgment and my thoughts. A half hour before we kicked off our family night, I distracted myself with clearing bingo boards, finding plates and napkins, and putting the prizes together. (When I am nervous and discouraged, I tend to fidget and distract myself with small busy work.) My colleague, the director of the program, called me out and redirected me to reality. She told me to leave the busy work to her and for me to go get ready to greet families thatwill show up. I repeated that in my head, "will show up, will show up, will show up." And boy, am I forever grateful for her ambitious heart. She saw the positive outcome, and I was only looking at the worst outcome. I let my doubtful heart get the best of me so I chose to rid myself of negative thoughts and I heard a voice telling me "So what if you only have 1-5 people show up? Sit with them. Laugh with them. Play bingo with them. Love them." 

I made my way to the front desk as the last families were checking out of the program. I had one family waiting in the hall and asked them if they were staying and they said "Yes!" There was four of them in the family! My heart leapt for joy and I directed them to the program area. Shortly after, I saw two of our students with their father saying "please, can we stay?" I then went up to Mr. Javier, shook his hand firmly, smiled, and asked how he was and if he'd like to play bingo. He nodded yes and his children jumped with a fist pump as he went to the car to invite his wife, oldest child, and toddler son inside. At this point, I was more than happy to have a total of nine people! Shortly after, a third family arrived and all my doubt was shoved aside. We had fifteen people total. Fifteen! I was ecstatic!

We served the families pizza and I nervously sat down with Mr. Javier's family and asked him about his work and his wife's hobbies. I was afraid the language barrier will shy them away from speaking to me so I kindly asked for his children to translate. I learned that Mr. Javier and his wife has never even heard of the game bingo. I learned about his job and I learned about some of the talents and interests his wife has. I learned about their oldest daughter's passions and strengths in school. I bonded with his two children that are currently in our afterschool program. Oh, how sweet it was to see their faces light up when I would speak to their children! I soon wished I could just sit with them all night and learn more and more about them. But we were running out of time and had a schedule to stick to.

My colleagues were also seeking out families and bonding with them. I was blessed to be able to witness something as simple and kind as them laughing with families, attending to their needs, and serving them to the best of their ability. Words cannot express my gratitude for their help!

Right as we were about to begin the first round of bingo, more and more families kept trickling in. I was preparing bingo and Sam and Andrew were helping families get settled. At one point all three of us were scrambling the get the new families settled! Our number of the night ended at 37! I was so surprised by the number of families that showed up for our first ever family event! What a joy it was to see families enjoying themselves, talking amongst one another, and playing a fun game of bingo. I was completely overwhelmed by tasting and seeing the effect of an afterschool program that brings families together for one purpose--to see grace and love be extended to them as it was extended to us.  

SOAR Cooking Club

What is the secret to having a good time at SOAR? According to Group 5 at Grace Hill, the answer is food! Offered only for our oldest students this semester, Cooking Club is always a hit. Student chefs try a new recipe every week. So far we have made French toast and pasta salad, and upcoming weeks will feature broccoli cheddar soup, stir fry, and meatballs. 

Cooking is a fun, engaging way to practice many different skills. Students are given a printed recipe to work through, so reading and following directions are key. Our 4th and 5th graders are familiar with fractions, a skill they need to use measuring cups and spoons. We encourage independent work as much as possible (even though sometimes it gets a little messy!), so groups know to work together to answer questions before asking a staff member. 

Teamwork is essential in cooking club. The first week, students were divided into groups of four, which will be their cooking teams for the semester. Together, teams are responsible for reading the recipe thoroughly, gathering materials and ingredients, and carefully following the recipe's instructions. Students practice being kind and respectful (two of the SOAR Six!) by distributing duties evenly and making sure each group member gets to participate. So far, we have been very impressed by the teamwork our oldest students have displayed!

Cooking Club is also designed to introduce students to new foods and includes nutrition education. Students are more likely to try foods they have been involved in making -- for example, some of our students tried raw broccoli for the first time in their pasta salad last week! As the semester goes on, we will discuss the MyPlate model, the benefits of each food group, and the importance of choosing a variety of foods from each group to create a healthy diet. The recipes selected for Cooking Club are chosen to give students the ability to make delicious foods from all five food groups!

When asked why they enjoy Cooking Club, student chefs said, "It's different and fun," "I like learning how to make stuff I can cook at home," and "We get to eat!" Fifth grade student Kevin even said, "We should come to school on Saturday so we can have more Cooking Club!" Although only Group 5 is currently participating in Cooking Club, it will be back by popular demand next cycle so more students can have the opportunity to join. If you have a student in Cooking Club, ask them to show you what they've learned!

Garden Club at Parson Hills

Last year the SOAR students assisted in building and creating the garden at Parson Hills Elementary. We started out with six empty raised garden beds. The students decided what type of vegetation they wanted to grow and harvest. They choose to do lettuce, mint, onions, cabbage, spinach, and cauliflower. After getting all our seeds to plant we did research on the proper way to plant and grow all these vegetables. The students in Garden Club were the ones to do all the research and preparation. Once the students completed their research with the help of the group leaders, they began to create plans of how to begin the process of starting the garden. The students were so excited to see their plants grow and couldn't wait to come back the next day to see which ones have grown. This was really sweet because they were so excited to see their plants but we had the opportunity to talk about patience and how it takes a long time for the seeds to grow but during that time we still have to take care of them. So the students made schedules of who was watering and tending to the garden throughout the week.

After a few months students helped design a fence to go around the garden so that we could keep all critters out.  The students were able to build the entire fence with the help of their group leaders. Being able to observe the students grow in confidence and take pride in their work was incredible. SOAR garden club was a huge success and taught students to be confident in their work, the importance of working with others and to practice patience. It's exciting to see what our garden club holds this coming spring.

Why SOAR? Because SOAR is for the student.

Why _____________SOAR? That is a question many people ask themselves for many different reasons. Why should I work at SOAR? Why should I send my child to SOAR? Why should I invest in SOAR?  Why should my organization partner with SOAR? The answer to all of the questions above and more is really very simple, SOAR IS FOR THE STUDENT FIRST. Kids who consistently attend SOAR become better leaders in their classroom, home, and community. This happens for a number of different reasons. The first reason is that SOAR hires really great staff members. SOAR staff members truly care about making every single day at SOAR the best possible day for every student. SOAR staff members are committed to being great listeners, prepared instructors, and positive role models for our students. SOAR offers premiere activity options for our students. Activities at SOAR include Theatre Clubs, Football, Goops and Gadgets, Videography & Photography, Woodworking/Building Club, and MANY MORE! The final reason for student growth within SOAR is that SOAR has developed fantastic partnerships with many organizations & schools in the community. Our partner schools of Parson Hills Elementary, Jones Elementary, and Grace Hill Elementary support our program in making sure that the standards of the school day are in line with the standards of SOAR, they assist us with homework time structure, and support our staff through relationships with their staff members. We are also supported by a number of partnerships in the community. Our community partners assist us with volunteer recruitment, program design, curriculum development. Art Feeds, Trike Theatre, CWE365, Camp War Eagle Summer Camp, Ozark Guidance, and the Benton County Child Advocacy Center are just a few of our wonderful partners that support the goals of SOAR. 

When a student comes to SOAR our hope is that he or she feels accepted, cared for, challenged, and most of all, has a ton of fun. We want to provide each student an opportunity to just be a kid without the pressures of school and without the pressures of whatever life situation they or their family are going through. SOAR is for the student.