CASA GRANDE — At the Seeds of Hope Mondo Anaya Community Center, students arrive at 8 a.m. every day with a backpack in hand, ready for a day of school work.

Although classes have restarted at schools across the area, most school buildings remain closed and students complete assignments via a distance learning program. To help students through the COVID-era school day, Seeds of Hope has adapted its after-school program at the community center to provide area kids with a safe and quiet place with internet connectivity.

About 30 area students are enrolled in the program. For some, their parents work or they do not have internet at home. Others simply need the structure of having a quiet place to go every day to focus on school assignments.

“Kids come at 8 a.m. and set up in our classrooms and log into their school sites,” said Teri Durham, Seeds of Hope office coordinator.

The students work on their school assignments throughout the morning and into the afternoon. State guidelines require such places to go for students who need it.

The Casa Grande Elementary School District delivers breakfast and lunch to the community center so the children have meals. Seeds of Hope supplements the meals with various prepacked snacks that may be served with minimal touching. Food is no longer prepared on site.

The transition from fun after-school hangout to learning center required Seeds of Hope to upgrade its internet speed, which came at an added expense to the nonprofit organization.

When the school day ends at 1 p.m., the community center transitions to its volunteer-run Power Hour tutoring program to provide extra help for students.

“Volunteers are trickling back in to help kids stay academically on point,” Durham said. “Then we have some organized craft or recreation before kids go home at 3:30. So, the change for us has been going from strictly a three-hour afternoon program to being open all day.”

To keep students safe from the spread of disease, guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are followed.

Employees wear masks at all times, and keeping the facility sanitized is a priority, Durham said.

“We thoroughly clean at the end of each day and spot-clean as needed. Kids are temperature checked before coming inside the building each day,” she said. “The hot lunch has cut down on how many people are allowed inside the building to eat based on state guidelines. So we have to serve lunches in shifts. Everyone is understanding and it’s gone smoothly.”

Seeds of Hope is a nonprofit, Christian-based organization that aims to improve lives through relationships and community development. Its programs are:

  • Hot Lunch, served at no cost to anyone in need, Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon at Fountains of Living Water Church, 518 E. Second St.
  • After-school Program, provided at no cost to children in kindergarten through fifth grade, Monday through Friday at the Mondo Anaya Community Center.
  • Community Garden, located on the campus of First Presbyterian Church.
  • Angeles de Esperanza, a socialization program for low-income seniors.
  • Stanfield Medical Clinic, which provides free medical care to those in need.

The organization has received some grant funding to help it adapt to COVID-19, including a Nourishing Neighbors grant from an Albertsons/Safeway initiative as well as some funding from the local Walmart.

“And we have had so many local groups, churches and individuals donate food,” Durham said. “Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t drop off some kind of nonperishable or a monetary donation with the message ‘keep up the good work.’

“Even in times of crisis, we live in a community that rallies around the needs of others. We have so many different community partners in our local businesses, civic groups, churches, families and individuals that help us continue doing what we do — improving lives through relationships and community development. God always provides just what we need, just when we need it.”

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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