Julie Filapek is convinced that, on any block, behind the closed doors there is a huge pool of strange and wonderful talents just waiting to be set free to improve the entire neighborhood.
She put that belief to the test with the help of a grant of $68,500 over three years from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership. The fund is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region with the proceeds of the annual U.S. Venture Open golf outing, and additional funding from the J. J. Keller Foundation and other community partners.
In a project called Kids Succeed, Filapek, program leader of Neighborhood Partners at Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin, identified neighbors of Columbus Elementary School in Appleton and Butte des Morts Elementary in Menasha, with special talents and arranged for them to teach the skill to small groups of no more than 10 students.
Building construction, journaling, French, antique bicycle maintenance and marble mazes all had their champions.
“It almost doesn’t matter what lesson they’re doing,” Filapek said. “It’s just that (the students) made a connection with any adult.”
By the end of 2016, year two of the three-year grant, 160 students at Columbus and 60 at Butte des Morts have participated in at least one activity. More than two dozen neighbors have offered their talents.
The classes are intended to increase students’ self-confidence and enjoyment of learning, improving their academic performance in the long run and keeping them out of poverty.
“I want kids to know that they’re not alone in their neighborhoods,” Filapek said.
She finds her “neighbor-teachers” by knocking on those closed doors and doing an asset survey of the neighborhoods.
Being asked to share their skills was a big deal for many of the neighbors. She told of one who had a thank you note he had received laminated to preserve the memory.
Her next move is to expand the program into middle schools in the two cities.