Kalia Gardner is joyfully hopping, running in circles around her brother and putting on her best dance moves to a television show about frogs. All this she did in five minutes.
It’s Tot Tyme at the St. Rose Community Center, and this hyper, precious tot is elated with the opportunity to pour her boundless energy into hopping like a frog. Her brother, Kerry, 9, who patiently stands by while she circles him repeatedly, had stayed home that day because of severe weather. Despite the distraction, the subdued fellow helps care for her and good naturedly participates in a program that center Director Ferdneit Bailey is trying to grow in St. Rose.
The three children there today are all the grandchildren of Barbara Green of St. Rose, who appreciates learning time for the children. She especially wants develop Kasen’s learning skills, who was born three months early weighing 2 pounds. Now weighing about 22 pounds, the toddler is getting stronger and has become more persistent in his attempts to walk on his own.
“He’s always been eager to learn, but I feel this has been good in helping him in his learning process,” Green said. “He loves it when you read to him and sing to him. He’s very observant.”
It’s been a good day.
They’ve made frog art, which is drying on the table. Now it’s time to color pictures of frogs, of course, while they have a snack and juice. Kalia along with her older brother and one-year-old brother, Kasen, have already started nibbling on green cheesy snacks (they look like fish but represent frogs, of course).
This is the second Tot Tyme hour-long session held at the center so far this spring, and it’s already a hit with Kalia.
Getting the community on board, however, has proven a little more challenging for Bailey, who also is program coordinator for St. Rose and the new Killona center.
“I’m kicking it up 10 notches,” Bailey said. “They are more laid back in St. Rose. It’s just hard getting them out.”
But that is not a problem for this determined coordinator.
A recent neighborhood scavenger hunt brought out the children. Afterschool art sessions with the St. Charles Parish Library are also proving successful.
“I’m trying to create more creative things for them to do,” she said. “The kids are coming in more steady.”
For the adults, she’s held “Healthy Cooking on a Budget” and “Library and Computer Technology Class” as well as “Open Mic Night” with poetry reading, karaoke for all ages and line dancing for exercise.
For Bailey, the importance of the centers is inestimable.
“It’s all about opportunities and chances,” she said. “It’s free stuff readily available.”
Free stuff, yes, but they also represent life-changing advantages.
Computer literacy can help with produce a cover letter for a resume, as well as aid a job search. Line dancing is more cardio, she said. The cooking class helps with budgeting and healthy eating, as well as teaches how to cook on a budget but in a healthy way.
As a single parent herself, Bailey said she learned a lot from these classes and hopes local residents appreciate the offerings.
“It makes you a more well rounded person, too,” she said. “You develop social skills, are better in problem solving and communicating better.”
Although the Killona Community Center is new, more people are utilizing it and that reflects a community embracing these opportunities.
In the meantime, Kalia is eager, curious and wants a puppet show.
Bailey eagerly obliges by staging it herself to an eagerly awaiting crowd that includes a fascinated Kalia, as well as her brothers, who talks to the puppets and answers all their questions about being a good girl.
They close the session with story time. With much enthusiasm, Bailey takes them on a journey by reading them the children’s book, “We’re going on a Bear Hunt.”
Kalia eagerly listens and watches her many gestures about dealing with cold and hunger on their journey.
When Bailey is done, the child helps finish story time by joining in and announcing, “The End.”