As one of Grinnell’s longest-running student groups on campus, the after-school program Friday Fun Night has established itself as a stable place for children of low-income families in Des Moines to have a good time and a healthy snack.
Every Wednesday, the five Friday Fun Night coordinators choose a theme for the week and plan crafts, games and food that fit with that theme. Children of all ages, younger than kindergarten or as old as 14, come to the basement of the Trinity United Methodist Church Fridays from 6-8 p.m. to sing songs, play hand games, do science experiments and engage in other fun activities with an academic aspect.
Some favorite themes have been Circus Night, which involved face painting, vinegar and baking soda volcanoes and a juggling show from Alex Krempely ’13, as well as Space Night, when the kids made green goo from cornstarch and water.
“They had a blast with that,” said Sarah Sherrell ’15, “because it was drying on their hands, but then it was liquid, and it was really interesting.”
The coordinators will also sometimes organize a night with a more serious educational theme, such as Literacy Night and Civil Rights Night, for which they coordinated with the NAACP.
“Nights like those are so important for them. They need to be introduced to those kinds of important issues really early,” said Zoe Cronin ’14.
Friday Fun Night is more than just an enjoyable way to spend their time after school—it provides underprivileged children with good role models.
“It’s really good for them to have role models who are in college and to have access to adults who will engage with them. I doubt that these kids interact with many adults outside their parents, and they don’t always have the best family situations,” Cronin said. “To have something consistent that they can go to every week with the same people is really important for them.”
“The kids have really tough lives—some of them are abused, or don’t have enough to eat, a whole range of issues,” said Justine Turnbull ’13. “Because of Friday Fun Night they have a safe place to be where they can have fun, express their creativity and have positive role models, and I don’t think they get that a lot.”
One of the greater goals of the after-school program is to encourage the kids to think about going to college early on. Friday Fun Night organizes a Kids On Campus Day every year, when they bus the children from Des Moines to Grinnell and show them around campus.
“They see college students every week who care about them a lot and know them really well, and they see a more positive outlook on life that could be a direction for them, rather than what they know,” Sherrell said.
The program also has a positive impact on student volunteers from the college, increasing their awareness of social issues.
“I think it’s a very broadening experience for college students, especially at a private school like Grinnell,” Cronin said. “A low-income neighborhood is going to be unfamiliar territory for a lot of students. It has been a really wonderful experience for me and opened my eyes to the importance of social justice.”