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Mon County 4-H encourages kindness through craft kits at Shack Neighborhood House

MORGANTOWN — Along with hot meals provided by the Shack Neighborhood House, families who stopped by for dinner Wednesday evening received a few special treats from the Monongalia County 4-H Program.

“We’ve been kind of just kind of trying to keep kids engaged throughout the last year and just learning new things and participating in different activities,” said Becca Fint-Clark, WVU Monongalia County 4-H extension agent.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, The Shack Neighborhood House, a local nonproft in the Scott’s Run community, provides free hot meals to local families through a drive-thru style event. During Wednesday night’s dinner, the 4-H Program provided each child with a “Sow the Seeds of Kindness” craft kit.

Each kit contained a pot, decorating materials and two packs of seeds. One pack is for the recipient to plant and the other is to give to someone else. Along with the materials, a brochure about the importance of kindness was included.

The projects found in each kit were funded through a mini-grant the 4-H Program received from an organization called Remake Learning Days Across America, or RLDAA. RLDAA, a national organization spread across more than 17 regions, uses family friendly learning events to engage caregivers, parents and kids.

Fint-Clark said the program prepared about 100 kits for the event. Those who did not attend the drive-thru, but are interested in receiving a kit, will have another opportunity during the weekend at the WVU Extension Office at Mylan Park.

“If people want to drop by and pick one up, they’ll be available outside our door this weekend, too,” she said.

“Sow the Seeds of Kindness” kit handed out on Wednesday at The Shack.

A crafting kit is not the only surprise youth received during the dinner. Joeline Swann, WVU Extension Office youth nutrition outreach instructor, provided families with a special kit of her own.

Through Swann’s program “Rethink Your Drink,” she works to promote healthy habits and encourage children to choose less-sugary beverages. Her kit included water bottles and a lemon to teach children how to make their own lemon water.

“We’re trying to get people a nutritious hot meal, so then [Swann] trying to provide them with a healthy drink option goes along perfectly with that,” said Devon McDaniel, Shack Neighborhood House program coordinator.

Distributing take-home kits such as the ones given on Wednesday has become an important alternative for the county’s 4-H program to encourage children to stay active. 

Fint-Clark said one of the larger kits they organized earlier this year allowed teachers to request a STEM package. Each provided everything needed to conduct a hands-on experiment with students. Later this year, she said another kit the program has planned includes distributing sunscreen to teach about sun safety and skin cancer prevention.

The Shack Neighborhood House has had to find new ways to engage and help residents and youth in the area throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as well. That is how the drive-thru feeding event came to be last summer.

“Because we weren’t allowed to have a summer camp last year, we kind of switched gears and started handing out free lunches,” McDaniel said. “We saw such a need for it that we continued on when schools were back in session and we switched over to the dinner program instead of lunch.”

The organization now feeds anywhere from 100-130 families each evening the event is held. McDaniel said partnering with other organizations like 4-H allows the Shack Neighborhood House to reach even more families and grow available resources.

“It’s definitely really important for us to partner with any nonprofit just to help the community,” McDaniel said. “Whenever we can partner, we can get more done.”

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Jolene Swann hands out a Rethink Your Drink bag on Wednesday at The Shack.