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Operation Shoestring has been organizing afterschool and summer activities for kids in Jackson for decades, but this year they’re doing things a little differently.

The new endeavor is called “Project Rise” and there are activities throughout the summer that focus on physical and mental health. This includes incorporating health talk into camp activities such as academic enrichment, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes, outdoor sports, swimming lessons, and mentoring programs.

This year, the camp serves about 125 third- to fifth-grade students free of charge over a six-week period.

Its programs throughout the summer and school year support children in the Jackson Public School system and the metro area. Students in Jackson are primarily from low-income families of color: 95% students blacks, and 73.8% of students dine free or at reduced prices.

For Laquinta Williams, the camp was a huge help for her family. Williams is the single working mother of Markim and Akira, students at Walton Elementary School who also attend Operation Shoestring’s summer programs.

She believes summer programming is especially important for her son Markim, whose father recently passed away.

“He likes to talk to them, but he usually doesn’t like talking to people,” she said of the camp staff. “He feels comfortable with them.”

She also said that the camp helps her work.

“Raising children on their own is a lot of money,” she said. “… We appreciate everything. This is the best service we have had. They even offer us breakfast when we drop off the kids.”

Supporting children alone is difficult, she says, and last summer she was paid for other summer camps and activities. The free classes at Operation Shoestring mean she won’t have any extra expenses this year.

Students from Operation Shoestring listen to instructions before doing a mindfulness exercise during a self-expression camp at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, Monday, June 13, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Robert Langford, chief executive of Operation Shoestring, said the pressure the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on communities of color, exacerbated by the enormous stress caused by the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and the social justice movement that followed, has created a dire need for families across the country, especially in the Jackson community.

Recent Research shows that symptoms of depression and anxiety in young people have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of young people experiencing symptoms of depression and 20% experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

Suicide rates among black children were on the rise even before the pandemic, and black children are now almost twice as likely to die by suicide as white children. Council of the Surgeon General of the United States. And children from low-income families are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than children from higher-income families—a startling statistic for a state like Mississippi, where about 30% of his children are poor.

To address the need for mental health support, Operation Shoestring weaves “positive, affirmative language” into its classes and activities, and places a strong focus on physical health and wellness, Langford said.

The organization partners with a nutritionist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to demonstrate the importance of nutrition to overall wellness, such as teaching cooking and nutrition classes and creating healthy recipes.

The children in the camp will also take part in a baking master class in city ​​foxeslocal family bakery.

Langford said Operation Shoestring values ​​the opportunity to provide students with opportunities to explore open spaces, which they are doing through a partnership with St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and the Pearl River Keepers, an organization that works to protect the Pearl River’s biodiversity through cleanup and cleanup. water testing and monitoring.

At St. Andrews, students are encouraged to engage in a variety of activities such as basketball, football or wellness classes.

During Monday’s health class, Lauren Powell, the school’s health director and high school counselor, asked children to reflect on what it means to practice health and mindfulness, including laughter, physical activity, dancing, and positive affirmations. The students then drew a picture that included five or six positive characteristics of themselves, such as courage, curiosity, intelligence, and kindness.

Lauren Powell, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School High School Counselor and Director of Healthy Lifestyles (left), helps Operation Shoes students with a mindfulness exercise during self-expression camp at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, Monday 13 June 2022 Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Students enjoy cupid shuffling and other dances to wake up and prepare for any other activity, she says, and the dances set the tone for campers to be more self-expressive.

Powell said she enjoys working with this age group because they can express their emotions without embarrassment.

When asked how to deal with children who may come from different walks of life, Powell explained that St. Andrews uses what is called “asset shaping”, a way of allowing children to be defined by their assets and aspirations first, rather than theirs. problems or shortcomings.

“These kids come from very rich cultures and very, very rich family backgrounds,” she said.

Operation Shoestring also continues its tradition of supporting campers’ parents. He provided cash assistance to families in need during the height of the pandemic and is currently running two separate parent support group sessions, one at the Food Grow Room and the other at Ecoshar.

“What we are really trying to figure out is how we can build a world that is fair for all. And we have a special responsibility in Mississippi, because of our past, to do the best we can with what we have where we are,” Langford said. “Therefore, we see ourselves as an organization, as a place to provide direct service and connect with others to build a healthier, more just and compassionate world.”

— Article provided by Allison Santa Cruz of Mississippi today

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