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Volunteers Feeding Bellies and Brains to Help Middle Schoolers Thrive

Middle school kids go through profound physical, emotional and social changes, and it can be a rough time for them, their parents and caregivers, and teachers, too. Research shows that strengthening the middle grades experience is critical for improving high school graduation rates.

Volunteers can make a huge difference in helping middle schoolers stay on track to succeed in school and in life, especially when service is part of a community-wide strategy. Mike O'Byrne helps out at the “Homework Diner” at Enka Middle School in western North Carolina. Thanks to nearly 200 volunteers like Mike, once a week, K-12 students and their families can go to Enka, Asheville or Erwin middle schools for tutoring and a free, hot dinner. Volunteers sign in guests, serve the meal, clean up, and tutor students, with parents and caregivers at the same table, learning how to better help their student as well. Green Opportunities’ Kitchen Ready culinary students prepare dinner, providing great job experience and reinforcing the greater community’s support for students.

According to a local newspaper, within two weeks of attending the diner, a student was able to improve his grades from Ds to Bs. Teachers say that kids who go to Homework Diners are able to pay attention better in class and have been turning in a lot more of their homework. Governor Roy Cooper says he hopes Homework Diners can be replicated across the state. Since the fall of 2016, more than 35 Homework Diners have served nearly 300 households with students from more than 30 different schools.

Inspired by a homework diner in Albuquerque, NM, these diners are part of the “Middle Grades Network” led by United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. A key feature of this collective impact initiative includes in-school resource coordinators, who facilitate early warning and response systems for at-risk students; manage volunteer mentors, tutors, classroom and after-school assistants; and create “hubs of service” at middle schools, offering resources such as financial literacy classes, health screenings, and more.

United Way asks “Who Got You Through?” middle school to inspire and recruit residents of Buncombe County to volunteer before, during and after school to make a difference for struggling students and families. No matter where you live, you can be the one who helps a student “get through” some tough years. Contact your local United Way to learn how.