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Cultivating Hope and Well-Being
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Houses of faith located in the Bester Elementary district partnered to support families who walk to school no matter what weather awaits them on their journey. Four institutions, one at each corner of the district, set-up free hot chocolate, friendly volunteers wearing elf hats, and caroling sheets to make the last walk to school before the holiday break special. Congregation B’nai Abraham synagogue, Emmanuel United Methodist Church and Saint John’s Episcopal Church all welcomed families to their buildings, while Lifehouse Church set-up a stand across from Hager Park. Lifehouse church had just spent the previous day distributing a gift to all six hundred children at the Elementary school, and didn’t hesitate to return the next morning to continue serving others. All four groups converged at the main entrance of Bester Elementary singing songs with parents before entering the building for their last day before the break.
The Bester district includes a large concentration of houses of faith, sixteen in total, that serve diverse groups and provide opportunities for relationship and connections. Members of those congregations work hard to give back to the community in a variety of ways, including volunteerism, resources and responding to identified community needs. Bester Community of Hope has worked with the Hagerstown Area Religious Council (HARC) to support their efforts in bringing together houses of faith under their shared beliefs and desire for a stronger neighborhood.
The walk to school initiative, is a monthly parent-led effort focused on attendance originating from the PTA at Bester Elementary School, supported by community partners including the Bester Community of Hope. The first walk to school event occurred last month with outgoing Hagerstown Mayor David Gysberts and incoming Hagerstown Mayor Bob Bruchey uniting to walk with Bester youth. Bester PTA parent Kay Papeskov, who is spearheading the effort, plans to continue this effort on a monthly basis. A special thanks to each partner organization that made today a possibility!
Interested in participating? Let us know your ideas so we can keep taking steps forward!
It was a cold Monday morning to begin a new school week following the Thanksgiving holiday, but thanks to the efforts of Bester Elementary PTA parent Kay Papeskov, the first steps were taken toward a new idea to bring community members alongside the children and families of the school, to encourage school attendance and a stronger culture of camaraderie and kindness in the neighborhood.
Mayor Elect Bruchey was joined by Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox to walk to school from Hager Park with excited students down Mill Street, while Mayor Gysberts led a group of families from Memorial Park. Both groups were escorted by members of the Hagerstown Police Department and the 2nd Battalion Hagerstown Fire Department, including fire engines and police vehicles. Both groups met at the main entrance to Bester Elementary to give words of encouragement to students about the importance of regular school attendance and being kind to each other. There to model that behavior first hand were Bruchey and Gysberts, who were united in their support of Bester’s children, and of each other. Together they signed a pair of commemorative shoes along with Superintendent Wilcox and Bester Principal Kristi Bachtell to display as an ongoing reminder to students, that accomplishing dreams starts one step at a time.
Mayor Gysberts commented later, “Being a part of today, it warmed my soul.” During a time in our country where there are many differences often highlighted and that often appear overwhelming, Hagerstown’s leadership showed us that we all have things in common to go along with those differences, and all of us can start with the belief that children and families are the priority and ask locally, “What can I do to make a difference?”
In the Bester school district, the vast majority of students walk to school, sometimes at quite a distance and in challenging conditions. The event on Monday was an important way to build unity and community collaboration as well as highlight some key efforts occurring in the school and around the Bester community including: emphasizing school attendance, showing children that the community at-large cares about their success, and to tie in to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programming occurring at the school around the idea of “Choose Kind” and the book “Wonder”.
The Bester PTA hopes to use this day to catalyze an ongoing effort where the community can support families who walk to school. Are you or your organization interested in helping with a future monthly walk to school event at Bester? Let Bester Community of Hope know, we’d love to have you involved!
Our special thanks to Mayor Gysberts and Mayor Elect Bruchey, who worked together and both demonstrated leadership, kindness and unity. We are proud to be a part of this great neighborhood and today represented a reason to be hopeful during this holiday season, one step at a time.
You may have seen several of us wearing green t-shirts in your neighborhood over the past two months on nights and weekends completing the neighborhood perception survey, we’re happy to report we completed survey number three hundred twenty one today and we are officially done with our representative sample! Not a moment too soon, it’s getting cold out there! We’ll be reviewing this information with our community advisory board next Friday as yet another mechanism to really understand the experiences in the neighborhoods that comprise the Bester catchment. While the data we gathered was beneficial, our team found it equally if not more valuable to hear your feedback and learn all about every little detail that makes up this great community with our boots on the ground. Thanks for being so giving of your time when a stranger came to your door and asked you to do a 26 question survey, we were all humbled by your patience and willingness to participate! Over the next month we plan to make a variety of this data available on our website www.besterhope.org, and more importantly, transfer this knowledge into tangible actions.
Also, as a part of our approach to take a close look at where the strengths and needs are in neighborhoods, this past Thursday BCOH gathered a group of social institution leaders at University Systems of Maryland at Hagerstown to focus on how we can study what the social institution data at the City and County level says about the best places to put our energy in the Bester neighborhood. Our primary focus is to listen and understand the feedback of the residents of Bester neighborhoods, but we also need to have easy access to data that comes out of our social institutions, such as education, health and social services to ensure we are on the right track. Experts from across the country shared strategies of the best ways to set-up a system of this type in Hagerstown, and over the next year we hope to be able to continue to make it easier to evaluate the best ways to understand what the data is telling us. Speakers at this gathering included Dr. Maya McDoom-Echebiri (Johns Hopkins – Comstock Center, Hagerstown), Uma Ahluwalia (Director, Montgomery County DHHS), Tyler Corwin (Casey Family Programs) and Trudie Thomas (Policy Map). We’ll be meeting with several partners over the next six months with a target of a late Spring 2017 gathering to explore data across the City of Hagerstown and beyond as a tool for community progress. We’re excited to be a part of this effort, let us know if you’re interested in participating in the process!
Dr. Maya McDoom-Echebiri explains to the group the long-term history of Johns Hopkins in the City of Hagerstown studying and solving major health problems using data
It was a special school day and an even more exciting evening for Bester Elementary students and their families. Professional basketball team the “Harlem Ambassadors” shared stories of hope and resilience, as each player had accomplished great things through past adversity. Kids had a day filled with fun and character education, and an evening with family memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to all who joined us!
During the day there were two assemblies, one for Pre-K through 2nd grade, and the other for 3rd through 5th grade.
This evening, Bester took over South Hagerstown High Schools gymnasium for a fun filled game against the Bester All-Stars, which included school teachers and friends from the Bester Community of Hope. Alexander Wright Jr. (above) of the Harlem Ambassadors leads members of the crowd through a dance line, while doing a “selfie dab”. This was one of many times the game stopped for audience participation. Not to worry, the Bester All-Stars held their own, tying the game 52-52!
On October 22, 2016, close to 500 people filled Bester Elementary to celebrate young families at Babypalooza 2016! The event was planned by a committee comprised of staff from Bester Community of Hope, San Mar Children’s Home, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Washington County Health Department, Washington County Safe Kids, and Towson University with a focus on supporting and celebrating families while providing information on parenting, child development and family living. The event received additional financial and operating support from Casey Family Programs, the Washington County Health Department, the Washington County Department of Social Services and the Fletcher Foundation.
To add a little fun to the day, expectant mothers were able to have local artists paint fun themes on their pregnant bellies and capture the moment with Youngblood Studios for a pregnancy portrait. “This is so cool, I wanted to do something like this for my first pregnancy, but didn’t think anyone around here did it!” stated one pregnant mom who was overdue and had a “times up” them with the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland airbrushed on her mid-section. Artists also brightened the day of children in attendance through face painting and some families were able to take fun photos with the photo booth. Jeff Ridgeway, children’s librarian, led story time throughout the day as well. Adam Donius, manager of Chick-Fil-A in Chambersburg, and his crew graciously donated and served 300 boxed lunches to the crowd for lunch.
No one walked away empty handed as guests filled their bags with information on parenting, early learning, health and safety as well as complimentary items from a variety of vendors. The Knitwits, a local crotcheting group, donated handmade baby blankets that were also given away for free. In addition, 64 cases of baby formula worth over $5,000 donated by Shop n Save was dispersed with the remaining cases benefiting the food pantry at South Hagerstown High School. Guests connected with local providers, gained valuable information, and had the opportunity to learn about services and supports available. Providers and services present at the event included Washington County Safe Kids, Poison Control, Birth – 5, S.T.E.P.S, Healthy Families Washington County, Dad’s Connection, Washington County Family Center, Kaplan University, Meritus Health, Washington County Health Department, Towson University, Priority Partners, Simply 4 Kidz, Community Free Clinic, Family Healthcare, Southside Pediatrics, Hagerstown Pediatrics, Partners in Pediatrics, Washington County Free Library, Emmanuel United Methodist Church, Department of Social Services, MD EXCELS, Head Start of Washington County, Professional Childcare Association of Washington County, Gateway Early Learning Center, Bright Eyes Early Learning Center, Kids First Swim, CASA, Mental Health Association of MD, Youngblood Studios, Lesley Whalley and fellow artists, Zero to Three, Early Childhood Advisory Council and The HUB at USMH.
Attendees who collected stamps from at least 20 vendors were eligible to win one of five grand prizes which included a travel system donated by Bester Community of Hope, car seat donated by Safe Kids Washington County, Pack n Play donated by Rural Children’s Fund, birthday party package donated by Discovery Station and a Thirty-One loaded diaper bag donated by Holly Luther and friends. Also, every attendee was entered into a door prize drawing where awards were made every 10 minutes including board books donated by The HUB at USMH and Washington County Free Library, three baby supply baskets donated by Meritus Health, a snack basket and flowers donated by Emmanuel United Methodist Church, and an Inside/Out movie and guide donated by Simply 4 Kidz, Baby Wellness Basket donated by Priority Partners, Toy Basket donated by South side Pediatrics, Baby Basket and Massage donated by Bodyworks Massage Center and Gift & Wellness Shop, two baby baskets donated by Hagerstown Area Pregnancy Center, several giant teddy bears donated by Valerie Zehringer and a baby basket donated by Professional Childcare Association.
THANK YOU to each organization and partner who made this event a first class experience for families, we hope to see you again next year!
Photography donated by Alan Siefert, San Mar volunteer
Join us as we celebrate families! Saturday October 22, 2016 11a.m. – 2 p.m.
Last week over 1,000 people came together at the Southside Community Block Party to celebrate the great resources in the Bester community and connect with their neighbors. This event would not have been possible without a long list of partners who came together as a team to make for a great day. Check out some of the sights from the day as well as take a moment to recognize the valuable partners who contributed. Until next year!
Bester Elementary School and Washington County Public Schools; The City of Hagerstown; Lifehouse Church; Pieter Bickford of What’s NXT; Fresh Academicz; Evolution Rock School; Air Methods Helicopters; A large gathering of community resource providers from the Washington County Homeless Coalition; JLG; Bester PTA; Ellsworth Electric; Former American Ninja Warrior contestant Andy Friedman & 4 Star Obstacles; Washington County Free Library; Washington County Ag Literacy Unit; Community Depot; HBP Printing; Krumpe’s Donuts; Bella Salon; Hagerstown Suns; Just Lookin’ Art Gallery; Pope Tire; Casey Family Programs; San Mar; Fletcher Foundation; Soroptomists International of Hagerstown; Full Life Family Ministries; South End Neighborhoods First; Bester Communities First Neighborhoods 1st; Historic Heights Neighborhoods First; St. John’s Episcopal Church; Hagerstown Church of the Brethren; Columbia Gas; Community Free Clinic; the Girl Scouts; Emmanuel United Methodist Church; and a host of additional individual volunteers and supporters. Thank you!!!
Please come celebrate with us at the Southside Community Block Party on August 20, 2016 for music, food, prizes and much more! The event will be from 12:00pm – 4:00pm at the Bester Elementary Field.
Looking back at the first half of 2016, as we have begun to build important community opportunities, we have been able to touch lives in many significant ways in the Bester neighborhood. One of the most poignant and memorable events took place on June 1, 2016. This year, a total of 268 students graduated from South High School in Hagerstown, MD and as seen in other communities across the country, the students of Bester Elementary School welcomed the graduating class of South High School with cheers, posters and pride as the seniors walked down the main halls of the school in their caps and gowns. To a third grader, completing high school and graduating seems a lifetime away and to the graduating class, it all went by so quickly. Meanwhile, teachers who invested so much into these young minds are able to see the much needed return on their investment. For some of these young adults, it was a trip back in time as they previously attended the old Bester elementary school, and for all it was the opportunity to show that hard work, persistence and believing in your dreams pays off.
Following the walk through the school, an assembly was held where fifth grade students had the unique opportunity to pose their questions to the seniors who were able to give powerful feedback to their elementary school peers. Valedictorian Emmanuel Teferi offered, “Continually set the bar high for yourself. If you dream high and think this is impossible and too hard, it’s good that it scares you, it means that you’re challenging yourself. My parents were Ethiopian immigrants with little opportunity and I remembered that and when I got to high school I took every shot I could take. I’m happy to say because of that I’ll be attending Princeton University this Fall. This isn’t unique to me, you can do this or whatever your dreams are, but just make sure you stick with them, work hard, and stay true to them.”
When asked how they overcame adversity, one student responded by talking about the power of connection. “My father passed away, people judged me on how I look or my grades, and a lot of things that helped me get through were bands and clubs that made you feel like people actually understood you. So, if you want to feel welcome, join the band or a club because you’ll always have someone to look up to whether it’s a teacher or a friend. No matter what you go through, you can overcome as long as your put yourself in the right place.”
Bester Elementary students also asked “what kept you motivated” and “what would you do differently”? Seniors responded by talking about the people who pushed them to work harder and being willing to take more risks despite the fear that holds them back. One student stated “It’s not always going to be the people that you expect that will put you down, but you have got to fight through it. It gets hard, I’m 6’3’’, but life is going to hectic. You’ve got to get those Jordan’s on and dribble down that court”.
As we move into the future with our community wide efforts, it will always be important to remember that when looking for local and long-term solutions, kids have the answers.