WHITE CASTLE — An abandoned Catholic school near downtown is showing signs of life again after it became home to the town of White Castle’s Summer Enrichment Program.
More than 70 children in kindergarten through eighth grade filed into the building last week for the start of the four-week program.
It is part summer camp and part classroom instruction — said Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams, a former third-grade teacher.
Williams said he has always wanted to do something to keep children from being idle during the summer.
“That’s my vision,” he said. “It was time to follow through, and do something I always wanted to do.”
So Williams sought permission from the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge to use the abandoned Our Lady of Prompt Succor School building.
Town workers cleaned the building, polished the floors and got the building ready after 20 years of nonuse, Williams said.
And then came the volunteers, he said.
More than 30 current and retired teachers, cafeteria workers and college students signed up to donate four hours per day — Monday through Thursday — to the program, the mayor said.
Each day at 8:30 a.m., students are dropped off at the school for breakfast before splitting up by grade level for classes, Williams said.
The volunteers keep the children busy with math, reading, English, physical education, art, music classes and lunch.
Program administrator Mary Frances Junius Lewis, a teacher for 34 years before she retired in 1987, discussed the benefits of continuous education Thursday.
The program, she said, keeps students motivated during a time of year when it’s easy to become lazy or find trouble.
“This is all about reaching these kids,” she said. “It’s important in a rural community to keep them off the streets.”
As the summer goes on, there will be field trips to a water park, historic Nottoway Plantation and the African American Rural Museum in Donaldsonville, said Mayor Pro Tem Barbara J. O’Bear.
Currently, the program is operating on a $1,100 budget, Williams said.
No children were turned away, including those whose parents couldn’t afford the $20 suggested donation, he said.
“This is really an all-volunteer effort,” he said. “ And we did it without grants.”
Word of mouth was used to spread the news about the program, and local businesses, the Iberville School Board and private citizens all pitched in by donating food and classroom materials to the program, he said.
But Williams said he can’t rely on people to be so generous every year.
The mayor estimated that it will take a $30,000 grant to fund the program annually.
“My vision is to have a program where we can give these kids two meals per day, give them some type of structure and keep them learning throughout the summer,” Williams said.
“It’s a challenge. It’s going to be a challenge in the future, but we’re going to keep doing it.”