Coconut Grove Cares was founded in 1948 by Elizabeth Virrick and Father Theodore Gibson to address injustices in the predominantly African American West Coconut Grove. Since then, as the community’s needs have evolved, so have those of the organization. In 1983, they switched gears completely and turned the organization into one that benefits children — and The Barnyard was born.
The Barnyard serves as a safety net for children who have difficulty in a public school setting. The program provides services that reduce the likelihood that children reared in neighborhoods plagued by the consequences of economic deprivation will experience academic failure or dropout. The longevity and effectiveness of the program stems from recognizing each child as an individual and that there is no one method to teach or reach all children.
“The United Way, a long standing agent of social change, has enabled, supported and legitimized Coconut Grove Cares’ mission and work in Village West Coconut Grove,” says executive director Sylvia Jordan. “For more than 30 years, United Way’s financial and moral support has allowed our agency to continue to hear the needs of the community and help find solutions.”
Reading, writing, math, dance, music and art are just a few of the activities young students ages 5 to 12 participate in. “We have so many different things for them to figure out what they’re good at, and figure out what their strengths are,” program director Katie Oxenhorn mentions. “We help to build their confidence in that way because a lot of kids don’t fit the cookie cutter design for what public schools teach to. It’s really important that we empower them in other ways.”
To enroll in The Barnyard, priority is given to the families in the community on a first come, first serve basis. Per school year, on average, they serve 225 students between after school care and summer camp. On a typical day, they care for approximately 100 children that attend daily.
The Barnyard serves the students of Tucker, Carver and Coconut Grove Elementary schools. During summer camp, children even enjoy two field trips a week in addition to an expansive list of recreational activities.
“We just try to make it as educational but fun for our kids as possible,” Oxenhorn continues. “We [partner with] work with a reading specialist from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and she gives us insight into what are the benchmarks that kids struggle most with — and what kids from inner cities struggle most with, so that we can work on those with the kids.”
The Barnyard is typically open from Monday – Friday, from 2 – 5 pm, but stays open until the last child is picked up. They create extracurricular activities to keep these young students engaged, with clubs that target interests from film and art to chess. The children put on special performances for the community to showcase everything they’ve learned.