Trainsong Neighbors Transform Youth Through Programs

by Sara Sebastian

June 14, 2012

Suzette Nash asks Cadin, “Do you know what the joker sounds like?” Nash, in a red sweatshirt with medium-length brown hair, displays her version of the Joker’s laugh. “Heehaaaahhhehhhahhh,” she bellows. Cadin mimics Nash, in preparation for his upcoming role.

The Trainsong after-school program is putting on a Batman-themed skit for the Trainsong Neighborhood’s Family Fun Night that will be held today, June 14, at Trainsong Park.

The Trainsong neighborhood is located in Northeast Eugene in the Bethel-Danebo region.  It is one of the smallest neighborhoods that is recognized in the city. According to City-Data.com, the neighborhood is only 1.418 square miles and the median household income in 2009 was $25,139, while in Eugene it was $39,640.

Trainsong is a low-income neighborhood, with stories of gang crimes and polluted air. But most importantly, it is a family neighborhood. Neighbors like Nash saw a need to help out at the newly developed after-school program.

In addition to that program which began about eight weeks ago, there is a program for littler ones called Baby University that started at the same time.

Baby University is a free, once a week program designed for parents and children from infancy until three years of age, and siblings up to age five are welcome.

With both programs on board, Trainsong is hoping to become a neighborhood where kids can thrive.

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Baby University is held every Tuesday morning at Bethel Community Church. It is made possible by the Bethel Community Church and Trainsong Neighborhood Association in collaboration with Birth To Three, Early Childhood CARES, City of Eugene Neighborhood Services and United Way of Lane County.

The objective of the program is to have parents come together to share parenting ideas and find mutual support, according to Dianne Reinmuth, the program coordinator and parent educator at Birth To Three.

Brad Lane, pastor at Bethel Community Church, volunteers each week at both Baby University and the after school program. He says that they are really excited, although the program needs more participants.

Lane is trying to combat that issue by advertising Baby University in the Trainsong newsletters, and by putting on a slideshow presentation at the Family Fun Night this evening.

Lane says that the “Bigger goal is to build community.”

Reinmuth officially starts the program by having the kids sit on their parent’s laps in a song circle. Reinmuth, with a purple paisley scarf and hair in a bun, was energetic yet collected as she held Bella in her arms. They sang “Wheels on the Bus,” with enthusiastic hand motions.

Other activities include a hearty snack of bagels, cream cheese, fruit, string cheese and goldfish, as well as a structured craft and free play time. This week’s craft was making rainmakers.

Ann King, Morgan’s grandmother, enjoys coming each week to socialize with other adults. She also thinks this program has been good for Morgan, as it helps him interact with other children.

King enjoys being surrounded by these kids so much that she hopes to start a by-donation preschool in the fall for the Trainsong Neighborhood.

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The Trainsong after-school program is held each Thursday from around 3PM to 630-7PM at the Bethel Community Church. It is sponsored exclusively by volunteers. Nash says that there are 10 adults who volunteer a lot of time and energy.

Besides volunteer dedication, it was put into effect with help by United Way, the Fairfield Elementary School Principal, the City of Eugene Neighborhood Services, City of Eugene Recreation, as well as Peter Sharon from Peterson Barn who helped with volunteer training, according to Lane. The program is modeled after some of the structure and rules of the Boys and Girls Club, Lane said.

Similar to Baby University, the after-school program is trying to get the word out to obtain more participants. So far, there are about 12 kids enrolled, according to Nash.

Lane says the structure of the program has varied on who’s there each week. Generally, there is snack time, reading or homework time, and games or craft time.

An important aspect of the program is getting these kids fed, according to Marsha Phillips, who cooks for the program. “We discovered these kids are really hungry after school,” Phillips says.  She noticed that if they are fed, they are more focused. “We discovered that sometimes it’s the only meal they can eat,” she says.

Phillips grew her roots in this community a few years ago when she drove the elementary school bus through the neighborhood. She said it’s considered the second worst route in the district. For example, she was hired in November after six drivers quit in less than two months, or since the start of the school year. The kids on the bus played a game to see how quickly they could oust the bus driver, according to Phillips. “That’s how bad these kids are,” she says.

Although one kid tried to set her bus on fire, she stayed with the job for two years. She is now involved with the youth group her and her husband started at the church.

Phillips said of the neighborhood, “I’ve seen a lot of changes, and they’ve been for the better.” She says there are a lot of families with kids in the neighborhood, and “People are fixing up their places really nice.”

Although Trainsong appears to be improving, the Eugene Recreation ‘Fun For All’ summer program got challenged because of some problems with the kids, according to Lane.

Starting June 18th, the ‘Fun For All’ program begins. It is held Monday though Friday from 10AM to 5PM at Trainsong Park. There will be games and a free meal each day, according to Lane. The program extends throughout the summer.

Jayden and Isabel, both 14, are graduating Cascade Middle School. They said the worst part of cascade is that there are no sports, that they are only at the high school. Besides the absence of sports, the electives of art, choir, band and health are only reserved for eighth graders.

Jayden says she enjoys going outside to play soccer and hanging out at the after-school program instead of just going home. Jayden also likes the complimentary snack as she says she is always hungry after school.

When asked what she thinks the little ones get from the program, Jayden said, “They can finish their homework, play and eat, and I don’t know if they have that at home.

At a circular table, three girls in the third grade play the game ‘Life.’ Lilly, 9, said her favorite part of the after school program is that she gets to sing a solo in the skit.

Candi, 9, is most excited about hanging out with her “BFF Tasha.” Tasha, also 9, said her favorite aspect is “hangin’ out with my best friend Candi,” in addition to snack and games.

Tasha and Candi are judges in the skit and Lilly is Catwoman.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Margaret Mazzotta, a crime specialist with the Eugene Police came by to see how the program was going. She also handed out bracelets and tattoos to the kids.  “This is fantastic, hats off to you folks,” she said, beaming.

“I’ve seen some of these kids wandering around and this is really, really good,” Mazzotta said, ‘Thank you. This is good for the community.”

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These two programs are just an example of the many activities the neighborhood has put together. There are also movie nights, the annual Trainsong Celebration, and weekly work parties such as landscaping or planting trees.

Suzette Nash lives two doors down from the park, and before that she lived three doors down. She has been in Trainsong for thirty years. She said that there is now more crime in the neighborhood, and all the “old timers” (people who lived there for years and years) have passed away or are elderly.

However, Nash said, “People are closer now than they used to be…Yeah, I think we’re closer.” For example, one of her neighbors had to vacate his house due to a mental illness. She noticed some people broke into his house, so she called up her neighbors and they took shifts on watching his house, 24/7.

“Right now, it’s more like family. Crazy Family,” she says as two kids scream in the bathroom.

Nash has two kids, 28 and 16. She says there’s a lot more going on now for the younger one than there was for the oldest.

One of Nash’s duties is to help with the costuming of the skit. She hands Cadin her personal hat to wear for his role. “That hat means a lot to me, it was worn during my wedding day,” she said softly. Cadin put it on and paraded around the room. A smile crept on Nash’s face. “Those big ears!” she said, laughing about Cadin’s appearance.

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Sidebar #1

How you can help Trainsong’s kids:

Dianne Reinmuth says they have an urgent need for Baby University volunteers this summer. Contact Lindi at Birth To Three at 541-434-4355, and she will help organize a brief orientation and training. Baby University is located at Bethel Community Church at 2600 Wood Avenue. Volunteers are needed from 930AM until 1230PM. 

Volunteers help with setting up chairs and tables, putting out games and toys, preparing the snack in the kitchen, interacting with babies and young children and helping them navigate towards appropriate activities. 

Volunteers are also needed next school year for the after-school program. Marsha Phillips says that college students are welcome to help with a multitude of activities, including homework or reading. Lane says that they are hoping to involve more U of O students next year. 

Volunteers are needed each Thursday during the school year from about 3PM till 630-7PM at Bethel Community Church. Call Brad Lane at Bethel Community Church for more information at 541-689-4440.

Donations are gladly accepted for the after-school program, as the volunteers are funding it out-of-pocket. Call Lane at the number above to make a donation, or send a check to Bethel Community Church at 2600 Wood Avenue, Eugene, OR 97402

Sidebar #2:

Become Involved in Your Neighborhood

We’ve all done it: thrown our neighborhood meeting fliers in the recycling, without a care as to even read the first few sentences. Some could hold a predisposition that neighborhood associations are best reserved for soccer moms or retired folks.

Yes, it might sound cooler to throw a block party to meet your neighbors, but it would be hard to facilitate discussion about actual community goals while you’re in a relaxed social setting.

Go to http://www.eugene-or.gov/nassociations and click on your neighborhood. From there, a box on the right hand side will have a link to your neighborhood website. Find out about future events, some may even have free food to get you going.

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