Editor's Note: For several charitable organizations, the holiday season — like the rest of the year — is a time to help those dealing with some of life's toughest problems and providing solutions to those problems. In the week leading up to Christmas, the News Tribune is using its "A Christmas Wish" series to showcase individuals whose lives were impacted by United Way of Central Missouri partner agencies and donors.
Inside the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City at 1105 Lafayette St., LaDonna Guthrie and her daughter, Heaven, are building a life and a home.
"It's just me and her, so when I got her into the Boys & Girls Club, I figured it would be a place for her to meet other kids."
Guthrie and her daughter moved from St. Louis to Jefferson City about five years ago when Guthrie enrolled at Lincoln University. As she pursues her degree in elementary education and teaches students at the club, Guthrie is using her job as a gateway into the education field.
Heaven began attending the Boys & Girls Club in second grade. An only child, the club helped Heaven meet many of her friends, Guthrie said.
Now a fourth-grader at South Elementary School, the aspiring artist is using the center to find her creative side and slowly break out of her shell.
For age 8, Heaven is quiet, shy and studious. While sitting to the right of her mom in the presence of a reporter, Heaven was admittedly nervous as she sat with her neck straight out, her chin up and flashed the occasional smile.
Heaven loves playing in a drum line at the club and being a cheerleader. In her free time, she likes drawing — herself— and reading books such as "The Tapper Twins Tear up New York"
"There's two twins. One's a boy. One's a girl. The girl wanted to raise money for a food bank for the school, so the whole school did a scavenger hunt around New York, and when they took pictures, they had to take it with their school mascot to make sure they did it at that time," Heaven said about the book's plot.
Guthrie is creative in a similarly shy way. She began working at the Boys & Girls Club about a year and half ago and serves as an after-school teacher for kindergarteners though fourth-graders.
One day, Guthrie wants to get a job working for the Jefferson City Public School District and make Jefferson City her home.
"We're not going back to St. Louis," Guthrie said. "I really love South (Elementary)."
Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Stephanie Johnson said the club hopes to make sure Guthrie gets a job with the district when she graduates from Lincoln.
Inspired by Guthrie's work, the club formed a partnership with the district, which will help education majors at Lincoln who work at the club get jobs with the school district.
"She does such an outstanding job," Johnson said. "It's a great opportunity."
The Boys & Girls Club gives students such as Heaven a place to decompress after school. Staff members help students with homework but also help them learn by playing games, assembling puzzles and being part of teams, Johnson said.
"Play is part of learning for children," Johnson said. "When children play with toys, they are very much learning."
Document: Boys and Girls Club 2017 Form 990View
The Boys & Girls Club serves about 230 students at its main building. The club also serves an additional 180 students in after-school programs at Callaway Hills Elementary School, Pioneer Trail Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Lewis & Clark Middle School.
Johnson realizes the critical role the club plays for working parents such as Guthrie. Most children at the club receive free and reduced-priced lunch at school and do not pay to attend the facility, Johnson said.
Financial support from the United Way of Missouri allows the Boys & Girls Club to cover expenses for students on free and reduced lunch. The club never wants money or time to be an issue for parents such as Guthrie, Johnson said.
"She is a single mom who has a job until 7 p.m.," Johnson said. "Even though she works here, if an after-school club wasn't available to her, she couldn't do this."
In this series:
Boys and Girls Club gives family new opportunity