Coalition for Kids is an afterschool program, free to families, devoted to helping children in need. It is a nonprofit that everyday buses children from local elementary schools to Kid City, the Coalition for Kids community center where they are fed, cared for and have access to professional tutors and other activities.
"The concept of what we do has never changed, and it's based off of my childhood," said Randy Hensley, executive director of Coalition for Kids. "I got off the bus at Granny and Papaw's, I had a snack, then I did my homework and we had supper, and I got to go play. That's the concept of after school being raised in Mountain City."
The children when they arrive at the center, have a snack, then they work on homework, reading and educational activities. This is followed by dinner and then fun time.
Fun time activities include bringing people for haircuts, dental checks, music lessons, sports and even a horseback riding program among many, many others.
Today, the program serves roughly 465 kids in day-to-day programming, covering seven elementary schools. There are 55 on staff and the program has about 100 volunteers a year.
How did it come to be?
This organization was formed 20 years ago when a group of businessmen and church leaders came together to build a playground at Tyler Apartments in Johnson City.
"When they got done, one of those folks, Mitch Cox, he's the local developer... Mitch said, 'why don't we do something more than a playground to affect these kids' lives?' "
At the time, city buses didn't go as far as that location. So the idea came for a community center, and that same team said yes.
"They named it then, 'Coalition for Kids,' which meant, different people coming together to help these kids," said Hensley.
If you could dream big, what would happen for Coalition for Kids?
Though already in the works, Hensley says that if he could dream really big, since the program is only in Johnson City Schools, he would expand out to Washington County Elementary Schools.
The program would have five elements: a snack, a reading focus, homework, a dinner and transportation home. He would want to also concentrate on fighting obesity and smoking prevention by educating children on how to live healthy lifestyles. This would be done by giving them healthy meals and nutritional teaching that will fight obesity and smoking.
Most importantly, the focus would be on reading.
Studies have found that students who do not learn to read proficiently in the third grade are more likely to either drop out of high school or fail to graduate. Hensley believes that if they can use the program to help children read on track at that pivotal time, it will increase the quality of life for the area drastically.
A lot of these things are already being done at the coalition, but the expansion to more schools and the programs being in the school buildings would mean doubling or even tripling the current staff size.
A lot of things that Hensley dreams of are already done by the coalition, but this would be on a much wider scale.
"My dream that is closer to reality than a dream is that we go into the county and offer afterschool care to every child its needed for in every elementary school."