In 2014, Silver Meadows Apartments in Kent came under the ownership of Millennia Housing. In collaboration with the management of the 444-unit apartment complex, which was renamed Villages at Franklin Crossing, LoveLight, Inc. initiated the Building Community, Building Futures project.
On May 29th, a kick-off event, attended by more than 75 people, was held at Villages at Franklin Crossing to mark the beginning of a new era for the neighborhood and to encourage a sense of community among the residents living in the former Silver Meadows complex. Following an outdoor ribbon-cutting ceremony and remarks from the mayor, food was served, music was provided, and various children’s activities were conducted, including planting seeds and creating a handprint mural.
During the year, over 121 youth participated in activities designed to promote healthy development, encourage pro-social behaviors, develop skills, prevent substance abuse, and build a sense of community at Villages at Franklin Crossing. These activities also provided the youth with the opportunity to interact with high school and college students, including LoveLight interns, community volunteers, and positive Villages adult role models of various ages. Funding from the City of Kent helped to support these activities.
During the summer, 1,118 nutritious lunches and 286 nutritious suppers were served to youth ages 18 and younger. Activities included games, gardening, and experiences designed to promote good health and nutrition. Personnel from Robinson Memorial Hospital and students and faculty from Kent State as well as youth workers interacted with the children to provide opportunities for healthful development, creative self-expression, and pro-social behavior. The suppers were provided by LoveLight, Inc. on 8 evenings in conjunction with vacation Bible school programs sponsored by The Light Church and Riverwood Community Chapel.
The management at Villages at Franklin provided an apartment, which enabled LoveLight, Inc. to sponsor 17 academic/reading sessions for children and 10 music sessions, conducted by a Kent State music major, who developed and carried out the curriculum for the program. In addition, 8 sessions of outdoor guided play to encourage healthy development and promote pro-social behavior skills were provided in the fall, under the leadership of University of Akron social work interns.
Besides offering programming and services at the apartments, LoveLight staff also worked with the Kent State University Art Department to provide five children with scholarships so that they could attend the Art Experiences program on the KSU campus.
In September, a teen night was held at Kent Health Care, to get input regarding needs and issues impacting teens and to encourage teen involvement in future programming.
In addition to the youth activities, a free blood pressure screening was held at the apartment for adults.
On Sunday, October 12th, VillageFest 2014 was held on the grounds at Villages at Franklin Crossing to provide an opportunity for residents to come together as a community, have fun, and interact with various community resources. Thanks to the generosity of the Episcopal Church of Kent, children enjoyed a “bounce castle”. Riverwood Community Chapel conducted games for the children, Longcoy guidance counselor Ashley Fraser, student Chelsea Hillard who developed the children’s music club during the semester, and students affiliated with the KSU Center for Pan African Culture offered opportunities for creative expression. In addition, Brenda Ptak of Mary Kay cosmetics was on hand to do demonstration makeovers, and Beyond Expectations Barber College (BEBC) provided free haircuts. Also, staff from Townhall II and the Kent State psychology department provided information about community resources.
Building Community, Building Futures has continued in 2015 and 2016 with the help of City of Kent grants that have supported programming in three neighborhoods in addition to Villages at Franklin Crossing. In 2015, a neighborhood grant from the City provided financial support for a community garden at Villages at Franklin Crossing. The garden project was also supported by the Garden Club of Kent, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Battaglia’s, Robinson Memorial Hospital via a grant from the Portage Foundation, and Kent Roosevelt High School.
Square Foot Gardens were constructed on the apartment complex grounds, and children gardened there as part of LoveLight’s summer program. In addition, they engaged in activities related to gardening, health, and nutrition provided by Mindy Gusz of Robinson Memorial Hospital and LoveLight staff.