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Program offers a safe place for kids during high-risk hours

Posted at 5:26 PM, Nov 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-14 18:09:44-05

ELYRIA, Ohio — It’s a gap of time every parent has to contend with: the difference between when school lets out and parents get home from work. Finding a safe and productive way to fill that time is a whole lot easier for some parents in Elyria, thanks to a program called South Side Pride.

Five days a week, from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m., parents know their kids are in good hands. That’s when South Side Pride offers an after school program at the East Park Rec on Prospect St. in Elyria. After letting the kids burn off some energy on the basketball courts, the program coordinators offer tutoring and homework help.

“We’re providing a safe place for kids after school,” said Dustin English, the Site Coordinator for the East Rec South Side Pride After School Program. He runs the program Monday through Friday, a role that gives him purpose, and fills him with pride. “There’s something for them to come to and something for them to be able to see what their city actually provides for them,” he said.

Seventh grader Alex Sanchez said the tutoring offered by South Side Pride has been a game-changer for him, telling News 5, “The biggest change was my grades, ‘cause my grades were really bad and they’re up to As and Bs now.” Alex said the program has provided a bit of an attitude adjustment as well; he said before signing up, “To be honest, I was like kind of disrespectful.”

On top of the rec time, the tutoring and providing a daily snack, South Side Pride makes sure parents don’t have to worry about getting their kids to and from the program.

“Our bus will help them get to the library and other things like that,” English said.

Nicolle Bellmore-Pierse, the Director of Community Services for Horizon Education Centers, reinforced the idea, telling News 5, “One of the biggest issues here in south Elyria is transportation."

Bellmore-Pierse described Horizon Education Centers as the backbone of several Community Collaboratives funded by the United Way of Lorain County, including South Side Pride. Explaining why programs like this are so essential, she said, “During those risky hours of 3 to 6 p.m. when middle school students can be making less than ideal choices, they have the opportunity to participate in things to support their healthy development.”

Working in a field like this isn’t just a job. It’s a calling. Bellmore-Pierse heard the call eight years ago when she was a social worker. “I was running a homeless shelter here in Elyria,” she said, “and I kept saying to our case manager ‘we’re putting band-aids on adults and if we could just work with kids we could actually make a long-term difference in the community.’” So she quit her job, took a 50% pay cut, and started developing programs like South Side Pride.

Bellmore-Pierse isn’t the only one who heard the call. Gabbrielle Norfus is the mother of twin 13-year-old boys. She signed them up for the program two years ago while she was working on her degree in criminal justice.

“This is the only opportunity on this side of town for me to be able to have my kids in a safe environment,” she told News 5. “It allowed me to be able to still work, still attend school, and have my kids in a safe environment where they get a snack and on top of that, help with their homework.”

Norfus says she’s seeing the program make a difference for her sons: “It shows. When report cards come, it shows!” Witnessing that transformation first-hand, she was inspired to apply for a job with the program. She’s now one of the after-school instructors at the rec center. She said South Side Pride is the whole package, telling News 5, “There’s other programs, but they are not coming to get you. They are not dropping you off at a safe location.”

South Side Pride offers even more than what’s detailed here. For more information on the program’s services, including summer camps, click here.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.