SML Good Neighbors, Inc. was started by members of four community churches with deep concerns about children in our rural Virginia community. In Virginia, as in the rest of our nation, the rate of poverty in our rural communities ranges from 10.4% in Bedford County to 15.3% in Franklin County. In the twenty schools in our area where we provide services, 5,455 children are eligible for the free or reduced-price school lunch program as of the 2019-2020 school year. Because the schools do not provide lunches during the summer, they are left with inadequate nutrition. These are the children that are also most at-risk of experiencing summer learning loss and falling into the achievement gap. These are the children we serve.
Our summer enrichment day camp continues to flourish through partnerships with both Bedford and Franklin County Public School systems. Summer of 2019, we served over 270 students in rising 1st through 6th grades in that program. Those students received 140 hours of educational programming this summer, plus breakfast, lunch and a snack each day of the program.
Both our camp and academy benefit from our summer weekend backpack program. We provided over 5,000 meals in bags during summer of 2019 to over 270 students in our community. Through that program, we were also able to send home over 4,000 books for our students to keep.
Student Enrichments in the Arts, or SEA as we call it, was launched in 2014. This program currently provides an eight-week theater session after school for five schools in Franklin County and one school in Bedford County, through a partnership with the Roanoke Children’s Theatre, the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Students also receive a snack at this program and have the opportunity to gain confidence through theatrical expression. An opportunity that they otherwise would not have if not for this program.
Our internship program provides life-changing leadership development opportunities for our carefully selected college students. They are our summer teaching staff, role models for our students and they become a part of the Good Neighbors family. We started with six intern positions our first year. Now we have eleven positions (as of 2020). Many of our intern alumni have gone on to continue the good work through positions at NPR, Teach America, Peace Corps, public and private schools and other non-profits throughout the Country. We learn as much from them as they do from us.