LANIER COUNTY, Ga. (WTXL) — In Lanier County, a free after school program continues to help students rebound despite the challenges of the pandemic.
"No matter what stage of life you're in you can make a difference where you are," said Kyle Sirmans, a foster father.
That's what The Youth Impact Center in Lakeland's afterschool program makes in the lives of students from Kindergarten through fifth grade. It's a place to get a hot meal, help with homework, bond with others, and much more.
"In a lot of these small rural communities there's nothing for the kids, there's nothing for the families that are struggling to try to help them," said Ryan Tuten, the founder of The Youth IMPACT CenterRyan Tuten, the founder of The Youth IMPACT Center
At the end of last year, the organization got an exciting donation in three huge warehouse buildings downtown. A new place to house and expand the program and then COVID-19 hit.
"We were going to be raising money this year to renovate those buildings and of course we had a big kickoff in January," Tuten said. "In February things started shutting down and we were not able to go in the direction we wanted to."
Schools also shut down which meant the afterschool program did too. Despite the many pandemic-related setbacks, Tuten identified a critical need.
"When the schools shut down of course they suspended the food program and a lot of our kids, the only meal some of them get is the meal at school," said Tuten.
So the Youth IMPACT Center pivoted to fill that need and started delivering meals to the students.
"We served over 25,000 meals and delivered over 95 percent of those meals every day from the beginning of March until the end of May," Tuten said.
Pre-pandemic IMPACT had about 115 students in their afterschool program a day, now they're down to 25 because the new location isn't fully renovated yet.
Tuten says he hopes to raise the Z$65,000 soon to take students off the waitlist and get them back into the program.
"So that's the biggest challenge right now is to raise those funds to open up the entire facility, not just phase one so we can go back to minister to more students," said Tuten.
"Like the scripture says, it takes a community," Sirmans said.
IMPACTS only source of funding is community donations, but those dried up when the pandemic started and people began getting laid-off and losing jobs and 70 percent of their donations stopped in March.
If you would like to donate to The Youth IMPACT Center click here.