It isn’t easy to maneuver around Our Next Generation at 6 p.m. on Monday nights as children rush out of their chairs to grab backpacks after an hour of tutoring. But one student remains in her seat, beaming. “Ashley” (not her real name) is at a loss for words as her tutor surprises her with a container of candy, reminding her to share it with her brothers and sisters.
Ashley comes four times a week to Our Next Generation (ONG), a community-based nonprofit that offers after-school, academic and enrichment programs. Now 11 years old, she has been working with tutor Sammie Lou Krieger for six years, meeting every Monday for a one-on-one session.
“(Sammie is) a good person,” Ashley said. “She’s a good influence on people, especially me and my brother and sisters.”
During their weekly sessions, Krieger and Ashley do homework, read books and review flash cards. “(Sammie) keeps me on track,” Ashley said. “When we get off task, she puts me right back on task.”
Krieger said she has seen dramatic improvement in Ashley’s reading over the years and attributes this to ONG.
“I think there’s a big social aspect to (ONG), that (the children) have a place to come where they’re safe and feel welcome and have friends, and they are served a meal, which is nice,” Krieger said.
ONG also takes middle school students such as Ashley off-site to St. John’s on the Lake retirement home, UW-Milwaukee, the University School of Milwaukee and Manpower Group to talk about career and college plans, as well as to do homework.
“We’re kind of letting them onto these secrets that there’s really cool and fun things you can do that are safe and healthy,” said Codi Alger, public relations and volunteer manager at ONG.
Alger said if the students enroll at ONG when they are young, as Ashley and her siblings did, they will usually continue through eighth grade. Older students then have the option to participate in ONG’s high school program.
“We’re kind of a small, intimate family, so our younger students and middle school students get to see these high schoolers from the same neighborhood and from the same background — maybe even from the same family for siblings — go off and succeed and really do well and overcome those obstacles that are far too common,” she said.
The community ONG serves has high rates of gang activity, prostitution and crime, Alger said, and high school students have been mugged on the way home from ONG or from doing community service.
“It’s hard to try to explain to these high schoolers that they’re doing the right thing and that it will pay off in the end when they leave from four hours of community service to just get jumped for a dead iPod on their way home,” Alger said. “It’s frustrating.”
Most of the ONG high school students have plans to go on to college and many will be the first in their families to do so, according to Alger.
“Right now is when we’re starting to see that first batch that graduated and went off to college,” Alger said. “Most of them are doing well.”
Ashley said she would like to be a tutor when she’s older so she, too, can help kids with their homework — “and still have fun while we’re doing it.”
For 16 years, Sammie Lou Krieger has volunteered at Our Next Generation, a community-based nonprofit that offers after-school, academic and enrichment programs. For the last six years, she has worked with the same student and said she hopes to continue doing so for years to come.
This story is part of a special report focusing on eight agencies that provide services to neighborhood residents in a variety of communities. Students from Marquette’s Diederich College of Communication created the pieces under the supervision of Prof. Herbert Lowe and NNS Editor Sharon McGowan.