Every day, Cierra Peterson greets each child with a smile as they come through the door at Little Lights, an after-school program that partners with the Capital Area Food Bank to provide nutritious meals to the kids who attend. The daily interactions are special to her, and she knows firsthand how much positive impact it can have on children’s lives.
As a former attendee of the program, Cierra says that the program gave her a safe space to learn and grow. After she went off to high school and college, she continued to volunteer at the site as often as she could, and after graduation, she was offered a full-time position as a site coordinator.
Much of Cierra’s adult life has been dedicated to helping the next generation of kids at Little Lights. “Our students come to us really excited after school,” Cierra explains. “Each day begins with community time, when we’re able to play games, get to know them, and ask them about their days at school.” Afterwards, the students go through three rotations—homework time, recreation time, and dinner time.
As it does for most of its After School Meal program partners, the food bank delivers meals to Little Lights every day during the week. Each meal consists of a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, grains, and milk. To Cierra, this is one of the most important aspects of the after-school program, as many of the children are part of families struggling with food insecurity. Some children may not have dinner waiting for them at home.
“While the parents are working, their kids are able to come here and receive a complete meal,” Cierra says. “Their families can be confident that the student is well-fed when they come home in the evening.”
With full stomachs, the kids can focus on homework – each child receives tutoring help. Once they finish school work though, it’s off to the recreation room for games and other activities that allow the kids to explore their creativity.
With the school-year ending, Cierra reflects on the past school year, and beams about the growth she’s seen in the children. She says she’s also glad that the program will continue over the summer, which schools are closed and free school lunch isn’t available.
“I am really proud of what we do here at Little Lights. Thanks to the Capital Area Food Bank, we’re able to provide those healthy complete meals for our students all year, and that will continue into the summer. And then on top of that, we provide academic assistance for our students, and just push them forward to live successfully and thrive in their lives.”