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Sanctuary on 8th Street Brings Students from Poverty to Success

By Kelly Church

Built as an after school program with just a dozen Jacksonville, FL children, Sanctuary on 8th Street is tackling a hefty mission: "to encourage and empower Jacksonville youth and families in need by ministering their spiritual, physical, social and intellectual needs." Now with much more than just an after school program and more than 100 children participating, the organization is giving kids in the community opportunities they may not have had otherwise, including the chance to develop a lifelong love of learning.

"The Sanctuary on 8th Street ministers to the emotional, social and academic needs of neighborhood children living in poverty," Vicky Watkins, Executive Director of the organization, says. "The goal is to help the children escape generational poverty."

Sanctuary on 8th Street cites that about 90% of children attend a high poverty public school. An astounding 96% accept free lunch and 60% run out of food on a monthly basis. More than half of these children have a family member in prison and the large majority doesn't have relationships with their fathers. These factors contribute to 99% of youth living in poverty believing they can't obtain a better life.

"The need is evident as you look around the neighborhood," Watkins says. "The eastside of Jacksonville is an area of town with a high poverty rate. The majority of our children attend high-poverty schools, which do not foster a love of learning or accomplishment."

The after school program that was introduced at the inception of Sanctuary on 8th Street is still very much a part of the organization. On average, 45 children participate in the program, ranging in ages from 5 to 17. Here, kids can receive help with homework, one-on-one tutoring, small group tutoring, access to computers and enjoy recreational activities, including birthday and holiday parties and cooking classes. During the summertime, the organization offers a seven-week summer camp that blends education, field trips, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities.

Sanctuary School is another program offered for elementary school children that are involved in other Sanctuary on 8th Street programs. Through Sanctuary School, children that were previously overlooked, overwhelmed or just not succeeding in public school are turned into excellent learners who love to come to school and participate. Small class sizes make it easy for teachers to give one-on-one attention to each student, ensuring their success. Three times each year, students are evaluated on their progress.

"Meeting the needs of the children that come to us encourages them to learn and creates a desire to succeed," says Watkins.

Sanctuary on 8th Street encourages community members to sign up as volunteers, allowing them to choose their own time commitment on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The community can also help the organization through donations, both monetary and tangible. A list of everyday items that Sanctuary on 8th Street needs can be found on the company's website.

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