“When I started in 2011, only 40% of our kids were reading at grade level and now it’s about 80%. So, my favorite part of the Moving Ahead Program is helping kids accomplish the goals they didn’t think they could accomplish and seeing them realize that they have a bright future.” – Janice, Program Coordinator of the Moving Ahead Program 

The Moving Ahead Program provides after-school and summer programming for all children kindergarten through twelfth grade in the Columbia community, with priority to Housing and Section 8 residents. Moving Ahead is in partnership with Columbia Housing Authority and aims to support families through academic support of children as well as providing resources to parents.  

We recently talked with Janice Brooks, Program Coordinator of Moving Ahead, Michaela Flores, Assistant Program Coordinator of Moving Ahead, and Randy Cole, Chief Executive Officer of Columbia Housing Authority about Moving Ahead and their partnership with United Way. 

Tell us a little bit about the Moving Ahead Program.  

Michaela: The Moving Ahead Program is a licensed after-school and summer program. We serve over 100 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade. Kids come here, they get a snack, and then they go into their individual classrooms. We are really focused on academic retention and making sure our kids are getting good grades and good attendance, so we do actual lesson plans based on Missouri state standards. They have homework time every day, one-on-one tutors sometimes, and then we also do enrichment with things like art and music as well as take them on field trips. 

Janice: And we don’t only serve the kids; we serve the families. 

Randy: One of the things I’m most proud of about the Moving Ahead Program is that it’s a low barrier to entry program. So, if a youth has had behavioral issues or maybe has had to exit another local program our staff is often the fall back of making sure everyone gets served. I’m really proud that Janice and Michaela do such a great job to make sure we can serve anyone where they are in terms of behavior. 

How does Moving Ahead serve families too? 

Janice: For example, we have literacy nights for families. We feel if we give the kids the tools then it is very vital that we give the parents the tools. We prioritize the family component and want families to be involved in their kids’ lives. We also bridge the gap between public schools and families by sitting in on IEP meetings. Moving Ahead kind of bridges that gap so the family isn’t so afraid to advocate.  

Michaela: We’re also centered on trauma-informed care and positive behavior intervention support, and we use those same strategies with our parents. We actually recently had a trauma treatment parenting class that our parents went to for 8-weeks consistently. It’s really great to see how both the kids and the families are getting the support they need here so they can have better lives outside of here. It’s expansive programming.  

What do you hope kids and families take away from their experience with the Moving Ahead Program? 

Michaela: I think I just hope they know they’re supported and that they have a safe space here in their own community where they can get the resources they need, the educational and academic help they need, and the emotional and mental support they need. I think it’s great that we’re able to provide that for them.  

Are there any examples you’d like to share of kids who have succeeded in this program? 

Janice: We have one success story about a kid who started here in early elementary school and they just had trouble socially, they had trouble emotionally, they were diagnosed with a developmental disorder–I get emotional talking about this. But they became one of our students and just grew here. They got a lot of learning from Michaela and a lot of one-on-one tutoring. They ended up graduating from high school and wanting to go to college. They still give back to our program today. It was excellent. The kid just thought they weren’t capable of doing what they were doing, and they found that here. We have several kids with similar stories.   

Michaela: Well, I know we’ve had several instances of kids coming to us in maybe first or second grade and they’ve been kicked out of public schools for behavioral issues, and they’ve been able to come here, we’ve been able to help them with self-regulation and behavioral regulation and they’ve been able to go back into public school.  

How does United Way’s support of the Moving Ahead Program impact the kids in the Moving Ahead Program? 

Michaela: United Way support is really important here because we’re able to have the finances and funding to provide a lot of the supplies that we need. A lot of the programming that we do here for the kids and the different activities and experiences we do with them comes from funding from United Way. 

Janice: And even this year United Way came out and provided books for our kids, backpacks for our kids, water bottles for our kids so it’s not only financial support, but they actually support directly to the program. It’s been a huge asset for us to have that support.  

Randy: The Moving Ahead Program is growing. We went from serving 60 youth in 2021 to now serving 100 and without the United Way’s local support we wouldn’t be able to have that same growth. Those dollars go directly towards providing food for our children, providing supplies for learning, covering costs associated with learning activities like going to the City Museum or Science Center or other activities so it plays a critical role in making sure we can provide this incredible service for these youth. 

Moving Ahead provides quality trauma-informed out-of-school programming enhanced with supportive services and activities to promote social emotional development of the entire family. Because of the impact of the Moving Ahead Program, United Way is committed to these efforts through financial and resource support. As Janice said, I’ve been here 11 years and United Way has consistently been a part of this program. They’ve been consistently helping since I’ve been here.”