Kemae Dixon’s twin boys are 20 years old now, but when they were small, they were introduced to a wonderful “second family” at the Lighthouse Academy. They were connected to Boys 2 Men, a Christ-centered mentoring group geared for young boys 9 – 18 years old to interact with male role models that teaches them the importance of manners, morals, how to prepare for a job interview, and more.
By the time her boys were in middle school, the Lighthouse was also offering an after school tutoring and activities program. Today, Dixon’s younger sons, Kheon, 8 and Kamry, 7, are continuing the family tradition of attending the Lighthouse. In all, five of Dixon’s six children have been part of the Lighthouse Academy.
“It gives them something to do after school that is free,” said Dixon. “That’s the biggest obstacle. It’s hard to afford after school care, especially with more than one child. That’s one of the biggest perks of it. Being a single parent and having to work, it was a big help to me, especially with transportation. The van picked them up and I know they had something to eat. I know they’re not getting off the bus and going home by themselves.”
The after school program provides homework assistance and enrichment activities to kindergarten through eighth-graders from four target schools: Price, Hartstern, and Rangeland Elementary schools; and Newburg Middle school. Schools generally refer children who might be struggling with academics, and need some extra assistance.
Lighthouse’s program runs from 2:30 pm to 6:00 pm Monday through Thursday during the school year, and provides a hot meal every day from Kids Cafe/Dare to Care. Homework assistance is a mandatory and it includes tutoring in reading, math, science and technology. On Thursdays, volunteers known as “Study Buddies” can give extra one on one assistance for any students that may be struggling.
In addition to the after school program, Lighthouse offers a summer camp program, two mentoring programs: Boys 2 Men and for the girls, the Halo program, as well as GED preparation classes for older students.
Cynthia Overall, Lighthouse’s director of operations and student services, knows that having a safe and nurturing environment for children to go after school can be a huge relief for parents. She has been at Lighthouse Academy for nine years, and is a beloved fixture at the facility.
“My kids bonded immediately with Miss Cynthia and the other staff,” explained Dixon. “They love them. Even the teen girls in the summer program are good. They brought one of my sons some cupcakes for his birthday, and he was so excited about it. They are very encouraging to them, but at the same time, they are firm with them and know how to reel them back in if they got out of hand. They make sure they are going to do what they need to do, like enforcing homework,” said Dixon. According to their mom, that emphasis on academics has made a difference for Kheon and Kamry, who are both now on the honor roll at their school.
Funded by grants from foundations such as the Gheens Foundation and other private donors, Lighthouse Academy has been commissioned as a 21st Century Community Learning Center, a distinction that connects Lighthouse with Jefferson County Public Schools and the Kentucky Department of Education to ensure Lighthouse students receive the appropriate intervention in their out of school time program.
“We like to think of our program as a family instead of just an after school program,” said Overall, who knows each of the 80 kids who attend the program by name. In a typical day, kids come in off the bus, run a few laps for exercise before eating dinner, and then its homework time. “Its non- negotiable and we don’t debate it,” said Overall.
After homework is enrichment time, which could include music, African drumming, 4H, karate, basketball arts and crafts or even cornhole. By the way, Overall is the official cornhole champion. “They have yet to beat me,” she said.
Overall said the relationships between staff and volunteers and the students give them additional adult role models to lean on that can make significant differences in the trajectory of their futures. A recent visit from an alumna of the program was a gratifying one for Overall. “A young lady came to visit us last year to tell us how being part of our program changed her life. She’s been out of the program three or four years but she came back to tell me that,” said Overall. “She’s in high school now and plans to go into the Air Force, and wants to be a doctor to give back, to help.”
What have Kamry and Kheon learned at the Lighthouse?
“The program has helped them to grow socially by being around different kids and different authority figures,” said Dixon. Students from Mercy Academy work with them, and with the basketball league they meet teams and kids from other parts of the city. All of that is really good exposure for them,” she said.
Dixon said the Lighthouse is a close-knit community that looks out for one another. It’s not just drop off and pick up your kids, and that’s it. They are very in touch with the lives of the families,” she said.
For Overall, it is about always being there for the students. “I tell the kids all the time, ‘I don’t make enough to do what I do. I do it because I love you.”