Much of what we do here at the House of Mercy focuses on the youth living in our community. We provide numerous activities and support to all youth in our neighborhood to ensure healthy and successful development. The youth we serve all live in low-income families, and most of them are of former refugee or immigrant status. This makes our youth population unique in Erie and requires culturally responsive techniques in everything we do. Here is a list of past activities:
Every September through May, the House of Mercy provides homework help for all students grades K-12. We split up the middle and high school students into one session and elementary students into another in order to tailor our services to the different age groups. We rely on college volunteers to assist us, making sure all homework is complete before students leave. This is especially important with the neighborhood we serve as many of our families are New Americans and their English language skills are still limited. Stay tuned for our program times starting this Fall 2019!
We know how important career exploration is to our students' development. For that reason, we hold an Industry Club sponsored by a TANF Grant every year for our middle school students. This includes research on careers in every defined industry to expose them to all kinds of careers. Students then do an individual presentation on a career of their choice, and finish off the program with a group presentation at an Industry Club Expo. In addition, we take our students on several field trips to see careers in action at places like UPMC Hamot Hospital and Marquette Savings Bank.
Another way in which we foster youth development is through a series of citizenship classes sponsored by a TANF Grant. These classes discuss the structure of American politics at local, state, and national levels. Students learn details about the constitution and history of American Politics as well. The classes culminate with a yearly trip to Washington D.C. and either Harrisburg or Philadelphia. There the students witness firsthand politics in action through tours of capital buildings, museum visits, and meet and greets with political officials such as Dan Laughlin.
Our after school program features enrichment activities after homework help every day. Each day has its own theme, and one of those days each week focuses on financial literacy. Lessons include playing games that mimic how money moves through a community, understanding what you need money for, and learning why saving money is important and how to save. Students have also created their own mock small businesses that they plan out with a given budget, their own business plan, and then open their store to other students.
The House of Mercy provides numerous field trips for our students all throughout the year. As most of our students are of low-income status, many trips we take our students on is the only time they can experience the places and things we see. We take students on trips to the Erie and Pittsburgh zoo, Waldameer and Waterworld, Presque Isle, Erie Playhouse, Get Air, Port Farms, Erie Seawolves, Erie Bayhawks, bowling, various parks, Zoo Boo, and special celebration trips to restaurants and ice cream parlors for good grades and behavior.
In addition to financial literacy classes, we also hold cooking classes once a week as part of our enrichment activities. This helps our kids learn basic cooking skills and encourages healthy eating habits. We make a variety of different foods with our students, and allow the students to request recipes to learn, getting them even more involved in the kitchen. When cooking, the students do most of the work while we simply instruct them on what to do. We have made things like quesadillas, cookies, fruit art with yogurt, cake, and even 'dirt'!
Environmental education is a large part of our enrichment activities, with a heavier focus on it during the summer months. In the summer, our Community Garden is in full swing and we do daily activities with our students in the garden. This includes learning how to properly plant, water, and care for the plants. We also discuss things like good and bad bugs, and identifying weeds. Students also harvest the produce that is ready every day, and then take it home to be cooked or eaten. Aside from the garden, we also have our students participate in Earth Day activities, and community clean-ups to learn how important it is to care for the environment.
Art, Crafts and Theme Based Activities
Alongside education, the House of Mercy believes creativity is also important, and should be fostered in our students. Each week, one day is designated for a new art project. Many times, the art project will be based on a theme such as a holiday or special topic. Students have created projects ranging from paper turkeys to watercolor paintings and foam snowmen to tissue paper wreaths. Our goal is to expose our students to multiple mediums and methods used in creating art and encourage them to create art on their own. We also do many theme-based activities such as holiday bingo that uses words associated with specific holidays.
Youth Summer Program
Every summer, we hold a daily youth program in July and August. We provide a free healthy lunch every day to all the kids who come to our program. Many of our students receive free lunches during the school year, and the families struggle with the cost of food for the summer months. These lunches ensure our kids still receive adequate nutrition all throughout the year. Our summer program also heavily focuses on the community garden with students working in it daily, as well as cooking and art projects. We provide weekly field trips all over Erie and even to Pittsburgh!