ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – Orchard Hills Achievement Center began in 2012 out of a backpack buddies program.
According to Executive Director Lisa Miles, they started by giving away free food on the weekends to children in need.
“One of my friends said to me, that’s great, but what are you going to do for them over the summer?” said Miles.
The first summer program included 17 children from the backpack program, and by the end of of summer, they had doubled their number.
“They were spending the night at each other’s houses to come to church on Tuesday mornings, and so we just fell in love with them, and we saw an opportunity to just live life with them,” said Miles.
That’s how the center started, Miles says. It now offers a preschool program, a homework helps afterschool program, summer enrichment programs, and food and gift programs. They have four buses that they use to take the children home in the evenings, and a bus from school brings the kids to the center.
Orchard Hills is a 501(c)(3), or a tax-exempt nonprofit, which means Miles and her team have to fundraise to run their programing.
“We are loved by Orchard Hills Church and held by Orchard Hills Church, but we do raise all of our own funding, about $200,000 a year to run all of our programs for our children,” she said. “Our desire is to service children who could not pay for services themselves.”
WFXR News stopped by the center one afternoon to check out the homework helps program. It’s every Tuesday and Thursday afterschool for kids K- 5 who attend Greenfield Elementary School in Botetourt County. The program is run mostly by volunteers, however there are three paid staff members.
“Our volunteer team is phenomenal and they just purpose to invest in each child in very unique ways,” she said. “Whether it’s being creative with their academic piece or just knowing their family situation and being able to speak into those needs and love those kids well.”
According to Miles, most of the children in the homework helps program are English language learners.
“They have a much harder time reaching academic proficiency in English language,” she explained. “They reach playground proficiency in English very quickly.”
Miles says statistically, children can hold playground conversations within three years of being exposed to English, but it takes five to seven to acquire academic language proficiency.
“When they’re coming from English-as-a-second-language homes, they’re not getting exposed to English until preschool or kindergarten so we feel the desire to step in that gap,” she said. “Our leaders just get in there and try to figure out what the child really knows and doesn’t know and fill-in those gaps for them.”
The center is looking for additional volunteers. If you’re unable to give your time, people can donate money. Information on how to get involved is listed on the center’s website.