FOR nineteen years, Savannah’s children have had a second home in Urban Hope, the nonprofit founded by Jack Roszkowiak.
During the school year, Urban Hope runs concurrent with the school calendar and gives kids from first to eighth grades a place to come after school.
“They work on homework, tutoring, special projects,” says site manager Covardis Broadie. “If they’re lacking in a subject, we try to assign someone to them to work specifically with that subject.”
“The Urban Hope staff does a great job of serving as a second parent because they actually have contact with the kids’ teachers,” says board member Cassie Beckwith. “If the child says, ‘I don’t have homework,’ [the staff] can check in with the teacher and see what they need to work on. They’re really communicating with the students’ teachers as well, which I think is a huge deal. It holds the kids accountable as well as lets the teacher know that there is this program they’re going to every day where they’re getting the extra help they need.”
During the summer, the kids are also taken care of with the summer camp, which concludes this Friday with the Garden and Art Show. There, the campers show and sell their art. They’ll keep half the proceeds, with the other half going back to Urban Hope.
“It’s open to anyone who wants to do it,” says Broadie, “and it’s first come first served. There’s no favoritism.”
There are around a hundred kids in each program, bused in from 10 schools to one of two locations.
When Roszkowiak began the program nearly two decades ago, it was to fulfill a need he saw in Savannah’s youth for a positive environment.
“One of Jack’s main points of starting Urban Hope was that he saw the issues of crime and poverty and the cycle that was continuing for decades,” says Beckwith, “and he really felt like if you could get children at an earlier age and give them love and education and a passion to find their real talents, that could cut down on crime and poverty. I think people are starting to realize that now. Giving foundation for the children and investing into them at a young age will lead to a better future for them and their community.”
“And not in the middle or towards the end,” adds Broadie. “That’s when most organizations start—in middle school. We’d like to take them younger than that, but the younger kids aren’t ready. Once they’re in first grade, they’re ready to start learning and progressing, and that’s where we feel like we serve them best.”
“I look at Urban Hope as one of those organizations that pulls people from all walks of life, whether it’s from the lower income or a higher income,” continues Beckwith. “We really try to bring all those people together on one level to serve our community. Sure, we’re serving these children and their families, but those are future employees and employers.”
Urban Hope partners with other local organizations like Beyond the Bell and Second Harvest to help their kids even more.
“It’s not that Urban Hope is just doing a summer program or an after-school program,” explains Beckwith. “We’re connecting those families with other people that can help them as well.”
The partnership with Second Harvest is especially important since many in Savannah struggle with food insecurity.
“It’s hard for [people] to even imagine that there’s a child who doesn’t have food,” says Beckwith. “They say things like, ‘Well, can’t they go to the food bank?’ What if their parents don’t have a car? What if they’re working? It’s not that easy. I think we do a good job of shining light on those without it being like a stigma. This is their life, your life is great, now let’s mend the two. You want to give back, come give back to these children. They’re deserving and so are their families.”
An important point in Urban Hope is that the children are most certainly our future.
“These children are Savannah’s workforce,” says Beckwith. “We talk about workforce a lot, and there’s not enough skilled laborers. These kids are 95 future employees, and if they’re coming to Urban Hope, they have more of a successful rate of being able to come out on the other side as citizens that are respectful and loving and able to do things for their community.”
“We start taking our children here at a very young age that do have the potential to be an employee here as they transition from eighth to ninth grade,” says Broadie.
In fact, Urban Hope doesn’t just end for its kids in eighth grade. The Student Leader Program for high school students allows them to assist the younger Urban Hope students and learn what it’s like to have a job.
“With some of the kids, they have something they’re working towards,” says Broadie.
While Urban Hope is a Christian-based ministry, Beckwith stresses that it’s open to all.
“The children are taught devotion and about God and that God loves them, but I think it’s important for people to know that we’re open to any and everybody,” says Beckwith. “We never want anybody to be turned away because they’re not Christians—we love all. And that’s a big part of it, even to the children.”