On the second floor of Children First Academy, a K-8 school for homeless kids, there is a classroom they lovingly refer to as The Clubhouse. This is where the miraculous story of Cookies 4 Change begins.
At 3 p.m. every day after school, seventh- and eighth-graders file into The Clubhouse. Before they even have a chance to set down their backpacks, they are greeted with hugs and a hearty “Welcome back—I am so glad to see you!” from their instructor, Marilyn Seymann.
Seymann started the after-school program last year with the help of the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network, an organization that unites groups working to fight human trafficking. Because the criminals that run these networks tend to prey on society’s most vulnerable, homeless teens are especially at risk.
The original idea was to provide middle schoolers who would otherwise be “on the streets” a safe place to go after school let out each day. But the program has become so much more than the seedling idea of a “hang-out” for young teens.
Much of the credit goes to Seymann, a woman who isn’t going to let an opportunity to help slip away. “My goal is for these kids is to become part of the community. I want the community to know these kids exist,” says Seymann.
The program is part of the Community School Initiative, an effort to connect community resources with schools to help young people “successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life.” Students participate in a total curriculum package, which includes a film club, a book club, guest speakers and field trips.
“With the cooperation of the community, we have been able to reach kids who are fairly isolated from the richness of what the world has to offer,” says Seymann.