Jashawn Boles’ daily job is a tad hectic.
“It’s exhausting,” he says. That’s even on a “slow day,” like Wednesday, when there were fewer than the average 35-40 children running around the Kings Center. The center, where Jashawn works, offers free after-school programs for children, many from at-risk families, from kindergarten through high school.
At the red brick building on the corner of Logan and Third streets in South Frankfort, the sound of drums emanates from the top floor. It’s only coming from a bongo class for the kids, but it might as well be the soundtrack of battle.
Most of the children are in elementary and middle school, and they have a surplus of energy only a parent, or someone like Jashawn, can seemingly understand. And the law of the conservation of energy states that energy must go somewhere.
Inside the living-room area, Keenan Manly, 6, is restless. He jukes left and right, moving at increasing speed until his body does a strangely intimidating wiggle, as he approaches his target: An older kid on the couch who has been goading him. Somebody has said he looks like SpongeBob, after the aquatic cartoon character.
Keenan prepares to pounce – he’s brave for his size and has the ability to switch in a moment from tears to laughter and from oppressed to oppressor. He leaps on to the couch and the roughhousing gets rougher. But then Jashawn enters the room.
“No, Keenan come outside,” Jashawn says.
He begins restoring order, telling another kid causing problems that it’s time for him to go home, heading to the basement to see what all that screaming is about and starting a short game of hangman on the whiteboard. Everything is better now – except for the girl doing cartwheels across the floor.
“Viktoria, this is not gymnastics,” Jashawn says as he draws on the board.
Though he says it was harder at first, Jashawn seems to handle all the nerve-wracking occurrences common to any after school program – threats, fibs, major problems with volume control – without any show of frustration.
In fact, the 21-year-old, who is studying to be an elementary school teacher at Kentucky State University, seems often to be one of the kids himself – joking, dancing and listening to their problems, all the while ready to snap back into his role of mediator if trouble arises.
“Don’t horseplay too much,” Jashawn said is the rule he tries to enforce the most.
Jashawn said the Kings Center feels like a big family, and it is in a rather literal sense. His siblings started going here when his family moved to Frankfort in 2009. Jashawn, whose stepfather’s work moves him around the state, said this is the longest he has stayed in one place.
His mother, Candace Haynes, took a job here in 2011 and is now the coordinator for educational programs at the Kings Center. Jashawn would volunteer at the center while he was home from studying at Eastern Kentucky University.
“I started volunteering and I would come every other day, and then it turned into me coming every day because I was just seeing such a great turnout with the kids and they were having such a good time,” Jashawn said.
After transferring to KSU – Candace says it was less expensive and allowed Jashawn to take care of his sick aunt and her children – he was hired as the temporary assistant program coordinator in July and, after going before the center’s board, received a full position in August. He is among the cadre of young people dedicating their lives to helping those even younger to learn and grow.
Jashawn now helps design the Monday through Thursday hour-long educational programs on subjects such as hygiene, cooking, writing letters, managing money and resisting bullies. He also works on Fridays, which are “free days” for the children when they receive home-cooked meals instead of mere after-school snacks like the rest of the week.
Jashawn said that after graduation, in addition to becoming a teacher, he wants to own his own company that provides after school care and tutoring for children.
“Just a safe place for kids to go after school, kind of like this,” Jashawn said.
Even as the children go on fall break soon, and on Thanksgiving and winter breaks later, the Kings Center, an agency of the United Way of Franklin County that is aided by several other organizations, will continue to take care of them and their families.
The kids will go on field trips and get free lunches every day, Candace said. The center will collect items at food drives and will build Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for children’s families and the elderly.
“Nothing really makes me happier than to see their faces when we deliver these baskets,” Jashawn said.
The center is also teaching the kids music, dancing, photography, writing, sculpture and other arts for a performance and exhibition at the Grand Theatre from 3 to 5 p.m. Oct. 14.
Last Wednesday, the children practiced for the event by drumming, dancing and singing. During one session, music seemed to be in a losing battle against the boys’ short attention spans. One child who was supposed to be using a shaker kept hitting the bongos instead, while another playfully threatened a reporter with his drumstick.
But Jashawn once again restored order – at least for a while – handing the patient drum teacher a water and leading the girls in singing. Later downstairs, he realized that he didn’t know two girls’ birthdays were coming up. He treated it like an emergency, immediately sitting down with them to help design their elaborate cakes, which are baked personally and free-of-charge for them by Sweet Blessings.
Still, mischief continued. As he questioned Shucara Ford, 9, about what she wanted on her cake, Ford’s brother, Sucarri, who wanted The State Journal to refer to him as “the best guy,” showed a reporter a bottle of invisible ink and poured some on Jashawn’s shirt.
How does Jashawn handle this kind of thing?
“Just come in with an open mind,” Jashawn said. That’s his advice to other childcare providers. “You really just don’t know what to expect.”
Jashawn said that above all, it’s important for adults to listen to children. He says he sees too many teachers give their all in the classrooms but devote not enough to helping children solve the problems they face outside of school. He says that when he becomes a teacher, his help will not be limited to the classroom.
“Sometimes that’s all it takes is somebody who is willing to listen to stuff that’s going on,” Jashawn said. “It’s not necessarily that the kids in this neighborhood are really bad kids, they just don’t have anyone to listen to them.”