A special thank you to our Grant Partner the St. Mark Youth Enrichment for writing this guest blog and telling us about their work.

St. Mark Youth Enrichment provides safe places for kids in the greater Dubuque area, offering before and after school and summer programs. These programs fill a gap for working families and students in need of support with reading, math, and social-emotional skills. With a philosophy of inclusion, safety, and trust, staff make connections with students that open their minds to new experiences and allow them to discover a new love of learning.

The Iowa Women’s Foundation has supported St. Mark for the last three years, which has been a time of tremendous growth and expansion. Nearly each year St. Mark has expanded to a new program site in the rural Western Dubuque community and St. Mark also developed and expanded a more comprehensive and purposeful social-emotional learning model and began presenting to a state-wide audience.

With the Iowa Women’s Foundation support, St. Mark helps address the critical child care needs with an emphasis on social-emotional programming. Social-emotional learning is woven through all levels of St. Mark, starting with the leadership culture and staff training based in composure, trauma-informed practices, and brain science that create safe learning environments, genuine connections, and ultimately results in trusting and impactful relationships with students.

St. Mark also implements practices to ensure we’re measuring outcomes to show student growth; most recent data shows that 93% of girls improved or maintained social-emotional skills. One mom shared in a survey, “I’ve noticed that my children are calmer, they are getting much better at self-calming. That’s been the biggest difference. It’s okay to be upset, but they are learning from the St. Mark staff how to safely and adequately calm themselves.”

The need for child care continues to grow in Dubuque County and St. Mark anticipates it to become more complicated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Mark knows that access to programming and social-emotional learning will be critical to children after isolation and potentially traumatic experiences at home. Despite our physical doors being closed right now, the St. Mark team has been working around the clock to deliver important resources for families at home during this tough time—building connections through remote one-on-one conversations, messages for families at home, and grab & go bags for families at all of our sites. This allows St. Mark to continue to provide bi-weekly activities, materials, games, and much needed support to assist in the emotional well-being of the kids throughout the community.