The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

February 23, 2014

At work to help at-risk children

New Light center offers activities, meals, structure

NORTHERN MERCER COUNTY — Striving to provide a safe place, in the heart of the community, where children can go to learn the values of respect and socialization is a need that keeps on growing and one that Dr. April Torrence hopes to expand on.

A volunteer director at New Light Christian Education Center, located on Cedar Avenue in Sharon, Torrence said the organization provides activities and 125 free meals every afternoon to at-risk children up to age 18 who have come to the center as either part of a prekindergarten program or an afterschool program.

Open since 2007, the center’s intent is to be a neighborhood hangout, complete with a full gymnasium and basketball leagues, along with karate lessons, a performing arts academy and self-esteem and self-empowerment programs that will hopefully encourage youth to take a positive approach with their free time and avoid poor decisions that lead to juvenile delinquency.

The hot meals, she said, are from the volunteer efforts of New Light Missionary Baptist Church, under the direction of the Rev. Brian K. Johnson Sr. The goal of the meals, she said, is to encourage socialization, along with making sure that the children don’t go home hungry. Last year, the church provided more than 33,000 meals, with the help of church members and college students from Penn State Shenango, Grove City College and Youngstown State University who came in to volunteer.

“My vision is for the efforts of this facility to reach the entire family, not just the children,” Torrence said.

“We are committed to developing the whole child, as well. Promise-based neighborhoods are the new buzzwords and it’s a concept I would like to see happen here,” she said.

Based on examples set by the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, N.Y., Torrence wants to develop social service and community-building programs that will “allow children to be shaped today so that they can mold the community tomorrow.”

Torrence, a mother of four who is working on her doctoral degree in the expansion of prekindergarten learning to low-income families, said she completely understands the need that the programs provide, having once been a single mother struggling to raise a son.

“I struggled. I mean I really struggled. It was a way of life to me and I didn’t see anything else. I had moved to Pittsburgh and was trying to manage on having $25 in disposable income for two weeks with a 2-year-old to feed,” she said.

“I was making $13,000 a year, and I had subsidized daycare and after I paid the rent, car insurance, utilities, etc., that was all I had left,” she said, starting to cry as she recalled splitting an inexpensive meal at McDonalds with her son as the only food they could afford.

And though times were tough, she learned the value of seeing another side of life, besides what she was accustomed to in Farrell and Sharon.

“Once I got out of here, I saw a whole other world. I want the children here to see that there is an entire world out there,” she said.

Two local businesses have partnered with the state in allowing the education improvement tax credits to be used by the center. Lew Kachulis of Synergy Insurance in Sharon, Torrence said, has contributed both financially and also by donating computers and school supplies to the education center.

Quaker Steak and Lube, also in Sharon, has used the same tax credits to provide some financing for the center.

With those computers, Torrence hopes to start a Skype program allowing children to speak with other children in other countries. “We used to have pen pals back in the day, but now with technology we can go even further,” she said.

There are about 22 children in the prekindergarten program, which runs two times a day, but financial assistance that was there is no longer available for 2014, she said, and “the program’s future isn’t looking so good.”

She said she finds it remarkable that all of the center’s programs are supported financially by the community and volunteers.

“They have a calling, a passion and a commitment to see that the education piece, the nutrition piece and the physical health piece are all here for these kids,” she said.

Children who aren’t involved in the prekindergarten program usually find their way to the center immediately after school and rarely miss a day.

“I see them before their parents see them. They come for the free activities and they eat very well here,” she said.

Torrence is hoping to convince the United Way of Mercer County to take the center on as one of its funded agencies.

“From the perspective of the parents, they need this place as an outlet for their children. I believe there is a considerable population of single moms who are not happy and who don’t have the skills or the tools to change and make things better for their children. I think they would rather their children were here with us, instead of seeing what’s happening at home,” she said.

The center is open weekdays until 5 p.m., sometimes a bit later for special events, but with additional funding, the hours could be expanded, she said.

“We’re about showing love, laying down the rules and embracing these kids for who they are,” she said.

For anyone wanting to help, either financially or by volunteering, Torrence invites them to come in for a tour and see where they can contribute. The center is always in need of sports equipment for the gym, she said.

For more information about any of the free programs or to speak with Torrence, call 724-866-9292.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • News briefs from April 24, 2014

    April 24, 2014

  • Bus cameras will be listening, too

    Hermitage School District is taking advantage of a recently enacted exemption to the state’s wiretap law in allowing officials to turn on the audio recording capability on school bus and vehicle video cameras.

    April 24, 2014

  • Union, city OK 4-year contract

    Hermitage’s nonuniformed employees have a new four-year contract that gives them average pay hikes of 2.5 percent a year and the opportunity to live outside the city limits, while allowing administrators more flexibility in scheduling.

    April 24, 2014

  • 2 principals to be hired

    Sharpsville Area school directors needed a shove to make a decision but the board voted Tuesday to interview candidates and hire two principals for 2014-15.

    April 24, 2014

  • Prison term upheld for sex offender

    A sex offender challenging a 4- to 8-year prison sentence for a probation violation lost an appeal of that sentence.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man, 24, must register as sex offender for life

    The Ohio man who exposed himself to Sharon girls on their way to school last fall must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life when he gets out of jail.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man deemed predator – for now

    A former Sharon man was sent to the state prison system Tuesday for corrupting the morals of a teenage girl, but the question of whether his penalties under Megan’s Law will stand could be subject to future legal proceedings.

    April 23, 2014

  • Not even waste will be wasted

    Tom Darby admits he wishes the startup of the anaerobic digestion process at the Hermitage Water Pollution Control Plant had moved along much faster.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3rd Earth Fest draws families to Penn State

    Penn State Shenango’s Earth Fest has become a spring tradition for area residents.
    Families poured into downtown Sharon for the campus’ third annual sustainability celebration.

    April 22, 2014

  • Amish clean Shenango River Volunteers protect Shenango River

    Shenango River Watchers has spent more than a decade working to clean up the Shenango and improve recreational access to its water and banks.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • For many, recycling’s become way of life

    When Pennsylvania mandated curbside recycling for its larger municipalities in 1998 – those with more than 5,000 people – there was grumbling about government interference in the lives of everyday people.

    April 22, 2014

  • Many items can’t be thrown away

    The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

    April 22, 2014

  • David Sykes' solar panels Earthworks

    While touring Germany last year, David Sykes spotted solar panels resting in a residential back yard.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Burned using Icy Hot, woman claims

    A Grove City woman has sued Chattem Inc. and Rite Aid of Pennsylvania Inc., alleging she suffered a second-degree chemical burn using one of Chattem’s Icy Hot pain relief products.

    April 21, 2014

  • Family outing Family friendly

    “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.
    But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo