After a long day at school, members at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County can’t wait to spend time with their friends — and enjoy some food!
At the Middlebury Clubhouse, the food is handled by Sheila Kantz and Laura Heiner. Kantz joined the team about a year ago, planning to work just for the summer. She enjoyed it so much she decided to stay at Club — while still working in the cafeteria at Northridge Middle School.
“At the end of the school year, we were told the Club was looking for summer help. Laura and I both applied, and we asked if we could share the job. We did it for the summer and loved being with the kids. We didn’t want to lose the job, so we decided to do it during the school year, too,” she said.
One of the pluses for Kantz is the connections she makes with the kids.
“I’ve made more connections with the kids here than I can at the school. You get to know their personalities a little more because you have time to have conversations with them. It makes me feel good to know I’m brightening their day. I like to be a positive person for them,” she said.
Kantz works hard to make sure snacks and meals are balanced for the members. They want to have a healthy option — like fruit or milk — to go with another snack. For dinners, they always offer something with a vegetable or fruit option. There’s always water available as well.
“Every once and a while we try to do a special treat. We bake cookies for the dinner or for a 5 o’clock treat,” she said.
She also enjoys letting the kids get a window into what happens inside the kitchen. Kids can be helpers throughout the afternoon.
“They help hand out snacks or help clean up. You have a big opportunity to have conversations with them when there isn’t a big group around. We try to spread the love and have different kids help us on different days,” she said.
The teens can help prep for dinner and Kantz said that’s when you learn more about their day. Her daughter, nieces and nephews are Club members so she can connect with them as well.
“At first it was just a convenience thing, but she was having fun and was getting homework help. I knew it wasn’t wasted time in the afternoon, she is getting something out of it. I love that she can be active and isn’t just sitting at home and watching TV after school,” Kantz said.
She hopes other parents know the Club isn’t just a place to drop off your kids.
“Everyone who’s here genuinely cares about these kids and wants to help them however they can. Whether it’s getting their energy out or giving them space with their friends, the kids get a lot more out of it than people may think they do,” she said.
She said the adults who work with the kids do, too. She’s learned that while her job focuses on food, it’s more than that.
“The food is still important, but it’s more about the kids.”