Through a working partnership between local nonprofit organization STARs Unlimited and the Monroe School District, Monroe's Summer STARs Club has been working to provide daily activities to all kids participating in the free summer lunch program.
Founded by former professional football player Chris Waltman of Monroe, STARs Unlimited is a multi-faceted agency that strives to promote community engagement through tailored programs like his sports-oriented STARs League and the Summer STARs Club. Meant to target the younger generation, the Summer STARs Club is a collaborative effort between schools, city leaders, the business community, other area nonprofits and the faith community to foster strong character and positive leadership traits.
Monroe School District Superintendent Ken Hoover approached Waltman in 2014, wanting to provide a structure for activities that could take place in conjunction with the free summer lunch program. Waltman developed the Summer STARs program, using it as a vehicle to bring free activities that challenge and engage the kids each day after they eat lunch.
As the program director, Waltman volunteers each day to provide something for the kids to do.
Every day during the summer months, lunch is served from 12 to 12:45 p.m. at Frank Wagner Elementary School (115 Dickinson Rd.), and after the kids finish eating, activities are provided. All students younger than 18 years of age are welcome to attend.
Merric Chandler has enjoyed bringing her 6-year-old son Coen and her 9-year-old daughter Dannika because it's given them something educational to do during the week. So far this year the STARs Club has facilitated presentations by the Monroe Fire Department, basketball camp performed by students from Monroe High School, a dance class by the Monroe YMCA, the Monroe Library, crafting projects and other activities including games and reading.
"I just think it's cool. There's something to do every day,GÇ¥ Merric said. "When you're used to the structure of school it's nice to be able to have something to do.GÇ¥
On Friday, July 24, Reptile Zoo manager Isaac Peterson dazzled attendees with a hands-on presentation about reptiles. Peterson brought several critters with him, including a tortoise named Squirt, an iguana from Cuba, a glass lizard, a rattlesnake, an American alligator named Lumpy and Bubba, and a Burmese python from south Asia.
As he showed off the animals, he provided numerous facts about each one, including where each animal typically lives, what it eats and a few of its more notable habits and traits. He allowed several students the opportunity to hold Bubba, a young python who will eventually grow to be 25 feet long, more than twice his current length, and weigh around 400 pounds.
"I know he's kind of big right now, but I promise he's not going to eat you,GÇ¥ Peterson said. "He's really picky about what he eats.GÇ¥
Waltman plans to grow the Summer STARs Club program in hopes of facilitating even greater community involvement next year, and will also be bringing his STARs programming strategy to Monroe High School during the school year.
"What we want to do is let people know about next year,GÇ¥ Waltman said. "So there's ongoing communication with families about character leadership, and activities that inspire and support that.GÇ¥
Through STARs League, he is working to foster additional community engagement through athletic activity, and has several upcoming free tournaments including men's and coed soccer, men's and coed softball, coed volleyball and men's flag football. He also has a coed softball league starting up on August 9, which has costs associated with field usage.
A 20-year Monroe resident, Waltman is hopeful that through the different aspects of his STARs organization, he can help shape a better future for Monroe's youth and change the trajectory of those who might be struggling. As a parent, he feels strongly that good character and strong leadership can work together, creating a solid foundation of stability by establishing traits like humility, responsibility, trustworthiness, courageousness and honor.
For more information on STARs Club, please visit: http://www.starsclub.us/. For more information about STARs League, visit: http://www.starsleague.org/about, email Waltman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-794-6467.