The Upper Cumberland Child Care Resource and Referral Center, housed at Tennessee Tech University, received $30,000 to help engage children in after-school, community-based programs in meth awareness and prevention through service learning. Participating child care centers include Cookeville Creative Learning Center, Rainbow Playschool in Smithville and Busy Kids Learning Center in Woodbury.
"It's our goal to have the children in these programs become a community of learners and gain a real sense of belonging so that they are more resistant to using drugs," said Betty Vaudt, program manager. "Children will learn about the dangers of meth and will create their own way of telling what they have learned to their communities."
Leslie Hamlett, child care resource and referral specialist, is working with K-6th graders at Cookeville Creative Learning Center on one of the first projects sponsored by the program. Although the ultimate goal is to increase anti-meth behavior, the first project required by the grant immerses participants in the idea of service learning by focusing on a Martin Luther King-inspired project.
"Teaching children to aspire to serve others with these practical projects is a start to showing them how to appreciate themselves and others," said Hamlett.
Jill Jones-Lazuka, director of Cookeville Creative Learning Center, agrees that the service learning aspect of the grant is of great benefit to the children.
"By working in partnership with TTU we've brought the whole concept of service learning to life for the children enrolled in the after school program," said Jones-Lazuka. "It has encouraged us to follow our dream to enrich and enhance our weekly program by incorporating basketball, music, Bible study and conditioning, along with our existing homework room.
"The project that will be done this spring to spread the message of meth awareness is a musical production, 'Forever Free,'" she said. "It encourages self esteem and the ability to stand strong in the midst of peer pressure."
Jones-Lazuka says each of these projects further encourages the children to work together as a team in making decisions and working through differences of opinions.
"These are life lessons that they will take with them into their future," Jones-Lazuka said.
Vaudt says some Tennessee Tech students, as well as faculty and staff, are prepared to volunteer to help the children create their own projects, such as informational or dramatic videos. Plus, she says the grant will enable the Upper Cumberland CCR&R to provided key training and support for the participating after-school staff members.
"Having trained after-school staff members across the region will continue to make a difference in the lives of children," Vaudt said.
The grant money — which will cover anti-meth communication products, supplies, training, transportation fees and other related costs — was made available through a federal grant from Learn and Serve America to Volunteer Tennessee, formerly the Commission on National and Community Service. Tennessee once ranked second in the nation in meth lab incidents; however, since the Meth-Free Tennessee Act become law, the rate of meth lab seizures has been reduced by more than 54 percent.